Cathie Anderson: Yes, Yan can cook, but it wasn’t always easy

Celebrity chef Martin Yan opened a new M.Y. China restaurant at Rohnert Park’s Graton Resort & Casino on Tuesday, but bright and early Friday morning, he was on the road to the Sacramento region to shoot a cooking show with Sacramento chef and restaurateur Mai Pham.

The program won’t air until fall 2014, but Yan has to shoot more than 100 shows each year that he sells and distributes to PBS and other broadcasters worldwide. Yan makes cooking Asian cuisine seem easy and approachable, but his message to young people who want success is that he couldn’t have gotten where he is without a lot of hard and monotonous work.

Yan has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in food science from UC Davis, where he started offering cooking classes to help pay his tuition. By the time he got to UC Davis, though, Yan had spent years doing the most mundane tasks at restaurants back in his homeland of China. He got his big break several years after college, while helping a friend open a restaurant in Canada.

Yan’s TV appearances are only a small part of the way he earns his livelihood.

“I’m a food scientist,” he said. “I work with food companies as a consultant. I work with restaurants as a consultant. I worked with restaurants and then I decided to open my own restaurants. I train employees, too. I travel all over the world to cooking schools to work with young chef students and try to inspire them.”

He’s also produced 30 cookbooks, and two more are on the way. He developed his own cooking knives because no one else’s satisfied him, and now he sells them at yancancook.com. The restaurant business is tough, Yan said, and anyone pursuing a job there should know that upfront.

“It’s very hard to train people, very hard to find people,” he said. “We just recently, when we opened, we trained about six or seven people in our noodle bar. … Within three days, four of them were gone. Only a few are left because they just couldn’t find enough desire and passion to do it. It’s very, very tiring, also very monotonous, when you begin your career.”

Credit, where it’s due

Jenée Rawlings has tackled practically every job there is at Yolo Federal Credit Union, but on Dec. 28 she will get the ultimate challenge – being president and chief executive.

The man who now holds those titles, Clyde Brooker, is retiring at age 66 to do “I don’t know what,” but over his 16-year tenure, he’s groomed Rawlings to take his place.

“She came here as a kid and didn’t intend to stay,” Brooker said, “but she worked her way up to vice president of human resources, and then when I came, I just thought part of my job, 16 years ago, was to spot talent and develop it. I spotted Jenée and thought she had what it took to do more, so I started moving her around. ‘Well, guess what?’ I’d say. ‘Now you’ve got operations and HR, and I’m going to put you in charge of lending for a while.’”

He also asked Rawlings to run marketing and spend some time in accounting to give her an overall feel for what was needed to lead. Rawlings celebrated her 24th year at the credit union last week, but she never intended to stay.

“I just took a part-time job as a teller while I was going to Sac State,” she said. “I wasn’t there for very long, and our CFO at the time offered me a newly created position as a Visa liaison. We had a credit-card portfolio that we were going to bring in-house, and somebody needed to write policies and procedures on how to do all this stuff, and I knew nothing about it but I said, ‘Sure, that sounds like a challenge.’ So I did that, and I’ve just had the opportunity to move around and grow with the company and learn every area.”

Brooker arrived when the credit union had just $57.3 million in deposits, but he leaves Rawlings to manage nearly $210 million in deposits.

Viva Las Vegas

California State University, Sacramento students Javier Mederos, Alyssa Zayas, Neil Devlin and Nick Staykow just came back from Las Vegas, and they couldn’t wait to tell the whole campus what happened there.

The four seniors won the 2013 title in the National Design-Build Student Competition, taking the stage to claim their prize in front of more than 1,000 construction industry veterans. Forty college teams from across the nation had submitted entries in the competition, but only three teams made the final cut: Sacramento State, Auburn University and Colorado State University.

Zayas said she and her teammates had just one week to write a 38-page response to a request for qualifications and a request for a proposal. Although they had industry coaches who prepared them for what would be expected, they couldn’t get any help from professionals to prepare their entry. They divided the work, Zayas said, and each student had to deliver. Then, once they got to Las Vegas for the competition, they had to make a 50-minute oral presentation on their proposal.

“It was a lot of work leading up to it, a lot of midnight hours at Sacramento State, getting prepared and putting together our proposal and making sure it was just perfect before we turned it in,” said Zayas, who works part time as an intern with Swinerton Builders.

Perhaps the most difficult task for this award-winning team was containing their excitement in front of the crowd. They were called on stage before their win was announced, but because they were standing in front of the Teleprompter, they could see the script and knew Sacramento State had won the title before the speaker announced it.

Last month, Zayas and four other construction management students won the inaugural Healthcare Preconstruction Competition, organized by the Associated Schools of Construction. Sacramento-area construction industry veterans volunteer each year to coach students on what they need to succeed in business.