The Story of M.Y. China

M.Y. China, a world class Chinese restaurant from chef Martin Yan, will be opening at the Westfield Centre in San Francisco very soon. Tonight is a preview event, Martin Yan will be there, as will Chris von Eckarstberg, architect for the project. We will have details and photos on this later, but first, read on to discover how M.Y. China came to be, and discover the stories behind the Chinese artifacts featured with in the restaurant.

How Did M.Y. China Come to Be?Martin was hosting friends over dim sum and tea one afternoon, and lamented that although had a life of creating and sharing stories through cookbooks and television shows, he didn’t have a place where his friends and fans could taste the things that he had experienced and discovered while traveling around the world.  He wanted to have a truly modern Chinese restaurant in his home town, one that was representative of the places he loved in China. Martin knew, given his crazy production schedule, that building a restaurant like this would require a team of professionals who shared the same vision that he did.

On a total whim, he asked a group of friends and restaurateurs to take a trip with him to China in 2009. Three years later, the close-knit team visited cities throughout China on four separate fact-finding tours; eating and meeting chefs in over 150 restaurants.  The vision for the restaurant changed the more the team experienced modern Chinese cuisine in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.  Their first inspiration, and the experience that set the whole project in motion, was a visit to Beijing’s famed Noodle Loft where they saw noodle making in an entirely open kitchen, where craftsman turned classic noodle pulling on its head. It blew everyone away.  Such an incredible rich sensory experience rolled into a simple concept:  See. Taste. Discover.

snuff bottles

At the antique market in Guangzhou, our team found a tiny narrow store filled with snuff bottles.  As the team decided which bottles to choose, one of the partners tried to negotiate the price down, by insisting that the bottles were replicas.  The owner promptly threw the team out of her store.  After a bit of groveling, the owner let the team back into the store and we ended up purchasing the bottles at regular price.

moon cake molds
While looking for glassware in a store in Guangzhou, our team spotted several moon cake molds in the display window.  When asking about the price, they were told that they were display items and not for sale.  Our team would not be deterred and the manager finally agreed upon a price and the moon cake molds were boxed up and shipped to the U.S.

We found the monks sitting on the floor of a small shop in the antique market in Guangzhou.  Although we weren’t looking for monks for the restaurant, we liked them so much that we knew we had to try and include them in the design.  We negotiated a price, wrote it on the owner’s business card, and promised to call back once we were in the States and had a chance to speak to the architect.  A few weeks later, the design updated to include the monks, we contacted the owner.  He told us that the monks had been sold but he could find replacements at a higher price.  Fortunately for us, we still had the price written on his business card and miraculously, he had monks available and ready to ship!


Martin Yan, and partners Willy and Ronnie Ng, from Koi Palace, were on a research trip to China when they discovered the 800 kg (1,764 lb.) bronze bell. It was too large to make it up to the third floor bell tower of the ancient Buddhist monastery, in Suzhou, China, where they found it.  The restaurant team rescued the oversized bell from being melted down, and procured it to anchor a custom designed bar built around the bell. (The monks were able to use the money from the sale of the bell to make a new bell to fit.) The team believes that the two dragons connected at the top, which will hold the bell over the bar, symbolize the marriage between ancient Chinese cooking technique and contemporary presentation.”