Martin Yan Returns to TV, Expands M.Y. China

By Tamara Palmer  |  December 4, 2013

As the groundbreaking international food television star and author Martin Yan celebrates the first anniversary of his debut San Francisco restaurant M.Y. China, he is also finishing his next cookbook and filming for a return to television for his beloved PBS series Yan Can Cook. And after the recent opening of a second M.Y. China restaurant 45 minutes north of the city at the Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park, CA, Yan and his business partners Willy and Ronny Ng (owners of the top-rated Koi Palace restaurant) plan to expand their concept outside of the Bay Area. We spoke with Yan about this particularly thriving time in his career.

Zagat: How do you think the first year of M.Y. China has gone?

Martin Yan: The journey this past 12 months has been most fulfilling for me personally. I treasure the opportunities to connect with many foodies and fans, who have followed the Yan Can Cook show for 30 years or have enjoyed my cookbooks in their kitchen, tableside in our first San Francisco restaurant. I am excited that the M.Y. China experience has been well received by our guests, who have shared with us the things that they love about what we’ve created and also the things they would like us to do differently. From day one, our whole team was on a mission to bring authentic, contemporary Chinese cuisine to America. Every day, we focus on our mission of offering our guests the opportunity to see how their meals are prepared right before their eyes, taste traditional flavors they may have never enjoyed before and discover regional styles of Chinese cooking that are approachable. Introducing a unique dining experience is an evolving project.

Zagat: How would you like to see M.Y. China evolve over the coming years?

MY: I would love to continue to introduce more exotic regional flavors and ingredients as well as cooking styles to the M.Y. China concept. Our restaurant has achieved some great results with the introduction of wild boar to the dumplings menu and venison to one of M.Y. China’s hand-pulled noodle dishes. I’d like to see our culinary team create more handcrafted noodles as our guests really love to watch our chefs in the restaurant’s open kitchen.

We plan to introduce Hong Kong style cart service during the weekday dim sum lunch and tableside service of our signature Peking duck. Pairing a primarily Asian kitchen with a Western service approach has been a fun challenge, one that we are working hard to get better with every day. The evolution of the M.Y. China experience will be propelled by guest insights and a constant quest for continual improvement on our part.

Zagat: Why did you decide to open a second location at the Graton Casino?

MY: I have frequently been told that there are not enough good Chinese restaurants in the North Bay that serve authentic Chinese food, so we decided to open our second restaurant in this area. The casino is an ideal setting for any restaurant. The focus of our restaurant is to be authentic, approachable and experiential. Like any casino, where you participate in the action, M.Y. China is very interactive. We encourage our guests to share in the excitement of our restaurant, where one can watch our wok chefs in action and witness how their food is being prepared. Guests sit right at the noodle counter and marvel at the many different types of handcrafted noodles created right before their eyes. Our hand-pulled noodle exhibitions always amaze and impress the crowd - both young and old. We also have the only mezzanine in the casino, which overlooks our restaurant and the casino floor, so diners can keep an eye on all of the action.

Zagat: Do you plan on opening more locations of M.Y. China?

MY: The M.Y. China concept is not only offering good food, we are also educating our guests about Chinese cuisine. Our team is actively looking for opportunities to expand the brand, including Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. We are also looking at reducing the footprint of the concept to accommodate opportunities in smaller, neighborhood locations.

Zagat: Do you have any other projects that you're working on right now?

MY: Our Yan Can Cook team is currently filming another 26 programs to be broadcast on PBS and worldwide tentatively in early fall 2014. We also are working on a new cookbook tentatively titled The Taste of Asia.

Zagat: Besides Koi Palace and M.Y. China, can you recommend other Chinese restaurants that you enjoy in the Bay Area?

MY: We are so fortunate to live in the Bay Area, which offers such a wide selection of Chinese restaurants: Yank Sing, R&G Lounge, Hong Kong Flower Lounge, and Chef Chu’s, to name a few.

Zagat: Where else do you like to eat in the Bay Area?

MY: So many great restaurants to choose from: Gary Danko, Fleur de Lys, La Folie, Roy's, Chez Panisse, Boulevard - all my good friends’ restaurants.