If Yan can, then you can

Published Feb 19, 2013 at 5:17 pm (Updated Feb 20, 2013 at 9:50 am)

When Master Chinese Chef Martin Yan took to television in 1982, the culinary world was very, very different than it is today – and the Asian cuisine that he chopped, marinated and stir fried on “Yan Can Cook” was no exception. “I used a lot more oils, salt, soy sauce, heavy seasonings and deep fried foods,” Yan said. “Asian cuisine has evolved, and people are eating a lot more healthful. Now, on my show, I use a lot less salt, less oil, less meat, and I use a lot more vegetables.”

What he makes on television is what he eats every day, and Yan said that what he prepares is so healthy that he hasn't gained one pound in the last 30 years. And, area residents have a chance to see him in action when he does a cooking demo and appearance on Feb. 23 at the Giant Eagle Market Districts in Wexford and Bethel Park.

Another thing that has changed over the span of three decades is the availability of ingredients commonly used in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and other Asian dishes. “Back then, in the produce department, you only saw bean sprouts, bok choy and tofu. Now, you have all kinds of stuff – mustard greens, water chestnuts, long beans, lemon grass,” he said. “It has become so mainstream. Thirty years ago, people didn't even want to smell fish sauce! One of the most important seasonings in Asian cuisine is fish sauce.”

Through the course of his career, Yan has put a lot of effort into dispelling myths of cooking Asian food. For example, he feels that most people think that cooking Chinese food is difficult, complicated, time consuming and incorporates a lot of unfamiliar ingredients. “Chinese cooking is generally very easy to do as long as you can find a way to do the prepping – that's what takes time. In Western cuisine, you cook the whole piece of meat, put it in the frying pan or oven, and you don't really have to do too much to it. Chinese and Asian cooking is meant to be shared, served family-style. So, you have to cut up the meat, cut up the veggies.”

Though, these days, even the prep can be cut out of the equation. “You can buy meat already cut up, you can go to the produce department and see vegetables already cut up and put in a bag called 'stir fry pack,'” Yan said.

He also said that Chinese cooking is fairly basic, and can be done with just a few staples – fresh garlic and ginger, soy sauce, sesame seed oil, salt and sugar. And while a wok seems to be the must-have pan for Asian cooking, Yan said that a stir fry pan or even a sautee pan will suffice.

He takes his inspiration from local, seasonal ingredients. “I think eating with the seasons is the healthiest way to eat. You eat the freshest ingredients,” he said. “I love to go to the farmers market – the seasonal produce inspires me.”

Yan is no stranger to Pittsburgh, either. While he has been here to do demos and lectures, he actually is friends and business partners with the owner of Oakland lunchtime favorite LuLu's Noodles' owner David Yam. “Ten or 15 years ago, I gave lectures at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, and that's where I met David. He took me back to his restaurant to have a bowl of noodles,” Yan said. “Now, he is my partner at M.Y. China in San Francisco – which is also famous for our noodles.”

Yan will be at Giant Eagle Market District in Bethel Park on Feb. 23 at 3 p.m. The appearance is free to the public, however tickets are limited and available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Advance ticket registration is available at www.marketdistrict.com.

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