Celebrity Chef Martin Yan is a culinary mastermind renowned globally for his unparalleled expertise in Chinese cuisine and his infectious enthusiasm for cooking. Yan, born in Guangzhou, China, paved his way to fame with his iconic television series, “Yan Can Cook,” which aired in the US from the late ’70s to the early ’90s. His infectious joy for the craft, sharp wit, and unorthodox knife skills made him an instant favorite among the Americans. However, Yan’s prowess extends beyond the small screen. He is a master chef, cookbook author, and culinary educator who has devoted his life to preserving the authentic flavors of his homeland while introducing the rest of the world to the wonders of Chinese cuisine.
Chef Martin Yan (©Melanie Lee)
Chef Martin Yan Brings M.Y. Asia to Las Vegas
With his latest venture, M.Y. Asia at Horseshoe Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, Yan is bringing his signature style of cooking and entertainment to the Las Vegas Strip. “We tried to make it different than any other restaurant,” Yan told us. “So when you come in to feel like you are in a museum, all of these are my collection. So the Emperor and Empress’s dresses are amazing. They all show embroidery; they’re over 150 years old. And a lot of these are from the collections from my house and office, including the three James Beard Awards, the medals on the wall.”
The walls of the restaurant showcase a variety of Chinese artifacts and some of Yan’s personal collection of pieces through the years of his career, including his recent Lifetime Achievement Award from the James Beard Foundation. “There are pictures from my travels all over Asia,” Yan said as he toured us through the restaurant. “All these photographs, I traveled all over Asia to cook with home cooks as well as Master Chefs. We brought all of my travels, all of my life experiences into this little restaurant here.”
M.Y. Asia (©Bronson Loftin)
While M.Y. Asia is his first restaurant in Las Vegas, Yan is no stranger to the Las Vegas Strip. “I have done a number of fun projects in Las Vegas for 40 years,” he explained. “A long, long time ago, about 47 years ago, I worked with Caesars Palace to create the first high-end Chinese restaurant caught long, long time ago. And that was the first high-end Chinese restaurant, Empress Court. And that’s why I have a long association with Caesars Entertainment and also with the chefs in Las Vegas.” His familiarity with the Las Vegas culinary scene made finding talent an easier task than most. “I actually worked in Las Vegas with various hotels and restaurants. A lot of the chefs are actually personal friends, like the chef at Red Plate and the chefs at Palazzo. We didn’t have a problem finding good chefs. We’re very fortunate. There are a lot of celebrity chefs in Las Vegas, but no Chinese celebrity chefs. We were very fortunate, and we want to make Asians proud.”
M.Y. Asia takes over the former spaces of Buca di Beppo and Tequila Taqueria inside what was once Bally’s Hotel & Casino. The transformed space includes an open-concept kitchen that sets the tone for the rest of the venue. “There’s a different energy level here,” Yan explained. “The kitchen is the centerpiece, and you can actually sit over here and watch. Everything’s happening right here. This is the stage, and we call the restaurant a theater. All my concepts are like this. In Beijing, Shenzhen, and San Francisco, you come in; this is the stage. So we do hand-pulled noodles. Every time we do hand-pulled noodles, everyone gets excited. And then we do drums whenever we have kids come in.” A corner in the back of the restaurant showcases a yellow lion and a drum set used for traditional lion dances.
M.Y. Asia Opening (©Melanie Lee)
M.Y. Asia brings an entertainment aspect to Asian cuisine, giving diners a little something extra to enjoy. “When you come into a restaurant to eat, no matter how good it is, it can be hard to describe what you’re eating. It’s delicious, but how do you describe it?” Yan said of the concept. “So we wanted to add different elements to entice people to come back to Las Vegas, to come back to M.Y. Asia. We call it “Yantertainment.” We try to create a sense that you are in Las Vegas; even if you’re in a Chinese restaurant, you are in Las Vegas, and you’re being entertained. The good thing about M.Y. Asia is that in our dining room, the kitchen is the center. When the dishes are done, the kitchen is right in front of you. You can see your food come out.”
The entertainment aspect of M.Y. Asia is especially enjoyable, given Yan’s many years as a celebrity chef. “We want to remind visitors that they are in the entertainment capital of the world; they will be entertained every minute,” Yan told us. “They don’t have to just walk to see the fountains or go to a show or a concert; they can be entertained even with food. You’ve got restaurants that are so popular—Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant is always packed—because you see a lot of things going on. We try to d the same thing here, but we do it with food and culture. We even have our own lion—we’re going to train our people to do the lion dance, we have the drums. I used to entertain students and young kids in elementary schools. I would bring these things; I would set up an electric wok to do popcorn.”
Yan’s approachable culinary style is completely sincere and comes with a deeper appreciation for his role as one of the world’s most renowned chefs. “I want this to be successful, not just financially; I want us to reach people, so more people understand, particularly with the recent Asian hate crimes,” Yan told us over lunch. “We use food to bring people closer together. That’s my dream—it’s not just restaurants. I’ve done many restaurants in my life. I truly feel it’s my mission to bring people together and use food as a tool to do that.”
M.Y. Asia (©Bronson Loftin)