Chef Martin Yan and Wife Donate Archive to UC Davis

Chef Martin Yan sits among cookbooks donated to UC Davis
Chef Martin Yan sits among some of the 3,000 cookbooks he and his wife, both UC Davis alumni, have donated to the university's library to establish the Chef Martin Yan Legacy Archive. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

World-renowned celebrity chef Martin Yan’s collection of nearly 3,000 cookbooks, his first wok, thousands of photographs and other media will be the main ingredients in an archive to be established in his name at the University of California, Davis.

Yan and his wife, Susan, both UC Davis graduates, recently gifted the items and funds to create the Chef Martin Yan Legacy Archive in the UC Davis Library Archives and Special Collections.

The donation includes:

  • among the cookbooks, 30 that Yan authored
  • photographs, videos, media clips and slides taken as Yan traveled the world for his food and travel shows, including Yan Can Cook
  • awards Yan received over the years
  • $20,000 to preserve and digitize the archive

Provides valuable insight

Crew films Martin Yan on small raft floating in river
A crew films Martin Yan on location in Yangshuo, China, in 2006. (UC Davis Library/Archives and Special Collections)

“The Martin Yan archive provides valuable insight into an important era of Asian cultural and culinary history and of one of UC Davis’ most celebrated alumni,” said MacKenzie Smith, university librarian and vice provost of digital scholarship. “Once this collection is digitized, it will allow scholars around the world to learn more about Asian food and Martin’s amazing career.”

Martin Yan sets up a cooking demonstration in a television studio
Martin Yan sets up for a live cooking segment in a television studio in 2012. (UC Davis Library/Archives and Special Collections)

Smith added that Yan’s story is an important part of the history of the Northern California food movement and cultural diversity in America, which the UC Davis Library is committed to preserving and sharing with the world.

To celebrate the collection, the library is planning a May public event at which the Yans will speak and Martin Yan will sign books and present a cooking demonstration.

Chef and ambassador

Martin Yan plates stir fry from wok
Martin Yan plates stir fry made in his first wok. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Yan said the gift to the UC Davis Library furthers his lifelong commitment to bring the joy of cooking to many. Over a career of more than 40 years — as a chef, television host, cookbook author, restaurateur and entrepreneur — he built an international brand on his motto, “If Yan can cook, so can you!” One of the first people of Asian heritage to host a cooking show in the United States, he introduced generations to Chinese and other Asian cuisines.

“It’s truly an honor and a privilege for me to be working with the library at my beloved alma mater to build this Chinese and Asian culinary archive,” Yan said. “I hope this will become a center for people to learn about Asian food and culture in a fun way.”

Martin Yan and a woman sit as they eat a meal outside in a Chinese village
Martin Yan films a show in a village in Yangshuo, China in 2006. (UC Davis Library/Archives and Special Collections)

As a culinary and cultural ambassador, Yan has made the heritage of the places he visited an essential element of his cookbooks and television presentations.

The Yans said they selected the UC Davis Library for their archive because of the university’s international prestige in food and wine sciences — including the library’s reputation as the world’s preeminent wine library and its growing collections about food.

Where the chefs career began

Martin and Susan Yan with some of the chef's cookbooks
Chef Martin Yan and his wife, Susan, met during their studies at UC Davis. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

The couple said they also saw the gift as a way to deepen their connection with UC Davis, where the chef’s career began and the couple, who have been business partners for more than 40 years, met. Martin Yan earned a bachelor’s degree in 1973 and a master’s degree in 1977, both in food science. Susan Yoshimura of Yuba City, California, who would become his wife, earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences in 1975. One of their twin sons, Colin, graduated from UC Davis with a bachelor’s degree in exercise biology in 2015.

Martin Yan, age 9, in his home kitchen in China
Martin Yan, at age 9, cooks in his family's kitchen in China. (UC Davis Library/Archives and Special Collections)

Born in Guangzhou, China, Martin Yan experienced poverty and hunger as a child, and for his sake, his mother sent him at age 13 to work in a relative’s restaurant in Hong Kong. After he graduated from high school, he headed overseas to Calgary, Canada, in the hope of furthering his education. In the late 1960s, he visited UC Davis on what was intended only as a weekend trip and shortly after enrolled.

To offset his expenses, Yan started Chinese cooking classes through the extension division of UC Davis. “Through teaching, I was able to continue my education at UC Davis and build my confidence and my persona,” he said. “Without these experiences, I wouldn’t have been able to eventually have a television career.”

Two men and cardboard boxes among bookshelves
UC Davis Library staff box cookbooks for delivery to the campus. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Media Resources

Media Contacts:

Other Resources:

  • To schedule an interview with the Yans on Jan. 24, 25 or 27, contact Julia Ann Easley
  • Online press kit: Photos of the Yans and items in the archive
  • Read a feature story about the Yans and their donation

Primary Category

Secondary Categories

Dateline Food & Agriculture