Martin Yan strides across his newest restaurant with a singular focus: lychees! Diners wave him down and the friendly chef greets them with a handshake and a few words, but he doesn't let these fans deter him from his objective. He marches out into the impressive backyard orchard and inspects his lychee trees with a critical eye, chatting and gesturing vigorously with three men. They are bargaining for a price to harvest the fruit for the upcoming lychee season. True to his television personality, Yan is a man in constant motion. A native of Guangzhou and adopted son of San Francisco, he is most famous for his 30-plus years as America's exuberant television chef on the programme, Yan Can Cook, as well as being a successful restaurateur (he has two restaurants, Yan Can, in California) and author. His latest project is the Chef Martin Yan's Culinary Arts Centre (CAC) in Shenzhen. The aim is to bring together Chinese culture and cuisine for both professional chefs and casual cooks. The CAC is housed in a magnificent replica of a French chateau at the foot of the international bar street of Shenzhen's Window of the World. 'I wanted to create a place for chefs to master different techniques and a gathering place for leisure cooks, tourists and enthusiasts,' Yan says. He heard about the place a year ago through China Travel Service (CTS), which helps him with his travelling cooking show and owns the theme park. 'It was important for the school to be in China to teach Chinese cooking. During my travels, I would look in places like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. This building [which previously housed a French restaurant] had been empty for 12 years, but what potential! I liked how the subway station was at the front door step and from Hong Kong anyone could take the train all the way,' he says. Yan set the ball rolling with the help of CTS and old friends, pooling the resources of 25 chefs from around the world who each contributed HK$390,000 to HK$780,000. It took eight months to refit the CAC, and the soft opening was held earlier this year. The initial idea for the centre came to Yan four years ago although teaching has been a lifelong passion. 'For years, I have been taking chefs on culinary tours around Asia and China to learn about Chinese cooking,' he says. 'The problem was, if a chef opens up his restaurant for our tour, we usually only have two hours in the kitchen because the downtime [when lunch ends and dinner preparation begins] is from 2pm-4pm. My thought was, if I have a place with adequate facilities, then chefs can learn for a full three to five days.' The first floor is the heart of the CAC, dedicated to the SensAsian Restaurant & Bar. The fusion eatery features an open-plan kitchen which is designed especially to be a professional demonstration space. The staff wear traditional mandarin-collared shirts and a butterfly harp twitters in the background. The second floor is home to a studio for filming, a meeting room for events and 16 impressive cooking stations for chefs and students to learn the secrets of Cantonese dim sum, Peking duck and Shanghainese pulled noodles. Yan is attentive to every detail of the project. He designed the kitchen layout, the restaurant and the studio arrangement. No detail is too small as he tweaks the lighting and moves antique pieces to find the most aesthetically pleasing positioning. A lone lychee tree blooms through the ceiling in the glasshouse at the back of the restaurant. Yan, wanting to preserve the orchard, has designed the re-fit around his precious lychee trees. He has plans to create a menu and a harvest festival dedicated to what he considers to be the 'king of fruit' in southern China. Today, he spends two weeks out of every two months in Shenzhen, hosting, cooking and ironing out the details of the CAC. In the past few weeks, he has hosted groups such as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce as well as the mayor of Shenzhen, while continuing to star in cooking shows. 'The restaurant has been a focal point for people to learn about the CAC ... Look around, it's a comfortable open space. It has natural lighting with warm woods and really elegant furniture. I wanted it to look different but modern. People should feel at home while they dine.' The restaurant serves to draw people in, but Yan says it's not the sole reason for the CAC. 'It's not just a school or a restaurant. We host continuing professional development and encourage sharing of specialities. Normally, I ask chefs who come to learn about Chinese cooking to also hold their own seminars on their native cuisine for the local Chinese chefs and amateur everyday chefs. 'I want the CAC to be a place for culinary exchange. We are looking into expanding into Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu. There is nothing like this in China so there is much potential for this to be a big success.' Word has spread to expatriates and families in Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, who are opting for day outings. The CAC offers tai chi in the morning, tastings of tea, wine, cheese and chocolate and, of course, cooking classes with four tri-lingual chefs. The CAC is working with the University of Hong Kong, Chinese University and the Polytechnic University through their hotel schools, Yan says. 'We have students as well as staff come up to learn. For example, we are developing a training programme with the PolyU for its staff to elevate Chinese cuisine. 'I want all Chinese chefs to be treated with respect. The CAC raises the profile of Chinese cuisine, emphasising the importance of our traditions.' The foyer of the CAC displays Chinese traditional antiques, herbs and ornaments from Qing dynasty vases to silk embroidered shoes and cheong sams. 'When people come into the CAC, I show them things like the traditional tea set, the tea leaves and photos of tea trees. It's a process of education not just of food, but of culture and all things Chinese,' Yan says. 'I am not an entertainer, I am a cooking teacher.' It seems Yan is seeing to his mission, one group of gourmets at a time.