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Celebrity Travel: Go away with Martin Yan

Jae-Ha Kim, Tribune Content Agency on

Over the past 40 years, Master Chef Martin Yan has hosted more than 1,500 episodes of “Yan Can Cook” on PBS. Back then, there was no Food Network or Cooking Channel. A few star chefs like Julia Child and Graham Kerr (“The Galloping Gourmet”) had their own series, but the climate for cooking shows was much different in 1982 than it is today. Now in his 70s, Yan is still busy at work not only with the series that made him famous, but with “MY Chinatown”, his new YouTube project, where he offers historic background and cooking in his usual easy-to-digest manner. Born in Guangzhou, China, Yan now calls California’s Bay Area home. Yan said he has been staying healthy throughout the pandemic by eating vegetables from his plentiful garden (which he showed off during our Zoom interview) and walking his dog. Fans may stay in touch with Yan on Instagram ( and Facebook (

Q: What was it like being a new immigrant to the United States?

A: I was 19 and at the University of California, Davis. I actually taught a cooking class at the extension division of the UC Davis campus and was able to make enough to pay for school. A lot of my students were actually professors, their spouses and professional people from the city. It gave me the opportunity to practice my English because it was not very good. When you come over older (like I did), you’ll always have an accent. It’s very difficult to shake.

Q: Were you apprehensive about moving to a new country?

A: The United States is basically an immigrant country. Your parents, myself and millions of people are immigrants. Only native Americans were here first. We all came over to fulfill a dream and maybe get away from political or religious persecution. Basically, America is a melting pot. I think of it as a hot pot, where you can put anything in it and the more you put into it, the better it is.

Q: Do you think food is regarded differently worldwide than in the U.S.?


A: In the U.S., I think we tend to be in a rush. Eat food while we’re doing something else. I think food in general is an integral part of life for people in Asia, not just for eating but socializing. They spend a lot of time eating in the restaurant at those big tables with the large (Lazy Susans) in the middle. You can have 14 or more people around the table and get work done in a relaxed setting and no one feels left out at the end of the table. Sharing and eating family style is integral and that’s not as big a part in the West, except maybe countries like France and Italy.

Q: When you travel, do you sometimes stick to your known comfort foods?

A: Everywhere I go, I eat what the people in that country do. In Korea, I only eat Korean food. In Japan, Japanese food. I do not understand people who visit China and head to McDonald’s. Why even bother? Food is a reflection of heritage, culture, history.

Q: What travel memory do you have that might surprise people?


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