|Wok with Yan at the Calgary Stampede|
|The "Yan Can Cook" show entertains while turning audiences on to Chinese cooking|
Cowboy hats and midway rides. Chuckwagon races and the rodeo. It's time for the annual Calgary Stampede, billed as "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth." At the appointed time I take a seat in the stands at the ATCO Kitchen Theatre, site of daily 45-minute long cooking demonstrations, mostly by local cookbook authors and restaurant owners. Today the audience is in for a special treat. Martin Yan is appearing - his first show on the final day of a three day stint at the Stampede.
Martin Yan puts in an appearance before the show starts. A short, energetic looking man casually dressed in a chef's jacket and jeans, he talks to the people who wander up checking out the cookbooks and his famous chef's knife - a finely crafted wonder designed to slice, dice, chop and do everything except cut bones. Then the show begins. What sets "Yan Can Cook" apart from the other Chinese cooking shows is Yan's twin gifts for cooking and entertaining. He works the audience, telling jokes, passing out roses, and awarding two of his books to the audience member who traveled the farthest distance to attend the Stampede (they came from Jordan). Unfortunately he wasn't able to give away his knife, which he promised to do if someone could tell him how noodles came to be known as pasta in Italy. It seems Marco Polo fell in love with mein (pronounced "meen") or noodles during his travels throughout China. Returning home, he held a party in which all types of mein, including chow mein and lo mein, were served. Since it was a party, the men all consumed a a great deal of alcohol, including Marco Polo's uncle. As the evening wore on, the uncle's repeated requests to "pass the mein" gradually shortened into "pasta." Is there any truth to this legend, found in one of Martin Yan's cookbooks? Probably not, but it's a fun story.
The lighter moments were interspersed with information about Chinese cooking, such as the importance of rice in the Chinese diet (noodles in northern China). One of the more interesting pieces of trivia he shared is that the world record for hand-pulled noodles is 9,960 strands in sixty seconds. Yan also revealed that he got his start in Calgary, demonstrating Chinese cooking on CFAC television. (He describes those early days in the introduction to "Martin Yan's Feast"). Today, the intrepid chef and cookbook author lives in San Francisco.
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