Sunday, April 06, 2008

Jan Can Too

I spent a great afternoon in Rhode Island this weekend watching Chef Martin Yan do a cooking demo at Johnson & Wales University. I've never tried anything of his, but I've watched his shows for years and years and was definitely looking forward to watching him in person and hearing his distinctive accent live.

He touched on a few topics of Chinese cuisine that I'd always wanted to learn more about: regional cuisine, international influences and transfers of the food into other countries. We also learnt a little more about his background and experiences growing up and learning how to cook -- I never knew he received a masters in food science from UC Davis. Its something I've certainly had an interest in learning more about, I only wish we had a class on that topic in this gastronomy program. I'll look into whether they offer the course online...

Anyway, he made a few dishes: duck and mushroom lettuce cups, edamame fried rice with seaweed, and sweet and sour fried fish (all from his cookbook, Martin Yan Quick and Easy). Jason thought the duck and mushroom lettuce cups looked great, if not a little too sauced, but I wasn't so convinced. We both agreed that the fried rice wasn't nearly as clean and comfortable looking as my version (obviously, you have to allow for some bias in that statement), but we liked certain touches, like the shredded seaweed on top. The way it wilted onto the hot rice made it look so good (probably much better than it really was, but that's ok).

We both agreed that the fish looked awesome (more the fish, less the sauce) and the technique he demonstrated was very cool: after dusting the cleaned and gutted fish with flour, he took a wide ladle and spread the fish over it lowering the front of the fish into the hot oil to help it take the shape, then using a separate ladle to pour hot oil over the fish.

In the end, the fish stood up on it's 'belly' and had the same shape it would have had in its natural shape. Very, very cool. I would love to try this at home and will the moment I have something larger than a toy stove in a crappy rental unit in Brighton.

He was very funny and a super nice guy (Jason thought he was a little rude to me until I mentioned growing up in Hong Kong and getting my masters at BU, but I call it being Chinese) and I have a lot of respect for how hard he must have fought to make a name for himself in this business and stay relevant. He, along with the other members of the 'old guard' are the reason things like the gastronomy program, the Food Network and all my lovely food glossies are ever possible. Is he of the same vein of Craig Clairborne, James Beard and Julia Child? No, but he's been a huge influencer in the second wave of cooks that range from high-end to street food like Jacques Pepin, Emeril Lagasse, Paul Prudhomme and Daniel Boulud.

He was quite the jokester while on stage, I was cracking up every time he poked fun at Bobby Flay and Rachel Ray, particularly when he explained why he'd never be anything but a guest judge on Iron Chef America, "I don't want to embarrass Bobby Flay." Mostly though he said, "I don't need to prove anything in my career. If I win, it doesn't make me a better chef. If I lose, then I won't be able to sleep for three days!"

Take that BBQ-boy!

He was pushing his new culinary center in Shenzhen, southern China near Hong Kong, like a crack dealer, but I'm totally down to go. I'd love nothing more than to gain a deep knowledge of Chinese cuisine and techniques, maybe one day I'll be able to pass along the information as a culinary instructor for Chinese food or a Chinese food social scientist. Either way a few weeks in China, traveling and learning to cook don't sound bad to me at all.