I wrote the Asian Dumplings cookbook nearly five years ago and didn’t know that it would enjoy such a vibrant, long life. In February, it was select for the second time on Chowhound.com as Cookbook of the Month. The past seven days, however, have particularly been filled with unexpected little dumpling surprises. It started off with a joint campaign between Food52 and Craftsy to highlight my online class, Asian Dumplings from Scratch. Food52 is a fabulous site for home cooking; they hosted the Piglet cookbook competition that Asian Tofu was part of in 2013. To get a shout out from them was quite flattering.
Then I taught two dumpling workshops at the San Francisco Cooking School. One was with home cooks and the other was with students enrolled in the school’s professional cooking program. Typically, the people who sign up for my cooking classes are women but last Friday night, seven out of thirteen people were men. A first for any of my classes! They were an interesting group of smart guys who wanted to end their work week with dumplings.
Niko said his wife gave him a gift certificate to the class. He did a lot of the cooking at home but wasn’t adept at reading recipes. So he was there to practice deciphering recipes. He was working with James, a retired police officer who had put himself through professional culinary training.
James was working on overcoming his fear of dough – he’d taken the pizza class at SF Cooking School and figured he’d might as well tackle dumplings too. He told me he wished we could focus on a single dumpling per day so he could master it really well. (My menu for the class covered seven dumplings!) James was looking into a six-week cooking program in Bangkok. That’s dedication.
Then there was the high-tech team. Seth worked in software sales and used to live on Clement Street, the hub of the new Chinatown in San Francisco. His girlfriend, a professional chef I believe, gifted him the dumpling class. He arrived in business casual and partnered up with a sitcom-worthy man who worked at Facebook. The two meticulously prepped a finely chopped vegetable filling and made perfect wheat starch dough. Somehow, they managed to share a cutting board until I noticed their cramped situation and got them a second one. No whining from them.
Another high-tech pro named Sam was our wine monitor, which meant that he got to gauge when it was time for us to open the bottles. Calm and measured, he worked with a woman to make Shanghai panfried buns filled with pork. He mistakenly used a box grater to shred ginger, and after we walked through shredding ginger with a knife, a light bulb went off. We both realized that it was all about different ways to interpret recipe and cultural language.
Then there were two Asian American men. Zaw attended with his girlfriend (or wife) and the two of them, self-described avid cooks, had lots of good questions. Jeffrey arrived late and got the spicy poached wontons all to himself. He had no problem catching up with the others and his dumpling was the first ones we cooked up and ate.
Most often, men attend my classes with a partner, but this time around, many went on their own volition or their partners sent them. Regardless they were ready to be challenged beyond their comfort zone, ready to learn. They had a great time and made a heck of a lot of dumplings – 250 of them in five hours. Class enrolment reflects geography and in San Francisco, there are plenty of men interested in dumplings.
The next day, I taught the students in the school’s part-time professional program. They all had full-time jobs elsewhere but decided to spend their off-hours exploring food careers and/or hone their home cooking skills. There was no wine served in class and more women than men. They plowed through the seven dumplings with precision (perfect brunoise/fine dice) and when they stumbled, I told them to move on.
Dumplings are forgiving and after we’d cooked up all that we’d made (about 280!), they stood back and were amazed at their accomplishment. It was a culinary workout.
At the beginning of class, it all seemed a little daunting as they had not covered dough yet in their coursework. Nevertheless, they were incredibly curious and asked about advance prep, flour functionality, cooking and shaping techniques.
We also suffered a failure in both classes. It had to do with the baked bao dough that did not rise properly. I've made the dough at the school before with no problem. Kirsten and I couldn't figure it out at first but on Sunday, I woke up with this epiphany: it was the flour. I'd used flour that had been opened for months and maybe not properly stored. A valuable lesson that I relayed back to the school. A dumpling phoenix rose from an under-inflated bao. (Ha!)
While I was teaching, Emily from West Virginia sent this email:
I just wanted to tell you how much I love your Asian Dumplings book as well as the information on your blog. My boyfriend (now husband) gave me your book for Christmas a few years ago on a friend's recommendation. I grew up for part of my childhood in Hong Kong and have always loved Asian food in general and steamed pork buns and pork dumplings in particular. We live in rural West Virginia, though, so we don't have access to any good Asian food. Once I got your book, I carefully read the introduction and the ingredients section and ordered a bunch of the flours, rices and sauces that you recommended. Over the next year, I made hundreds of dumplings. This obsession culminated in me making and freezing somewhere close to 600 dumplings and buns for our wedding dinner (everyone was amazed, of course, because your recipes have that effect!). It makes me SO HAPPY to be able to cook some of my favorite foods at home and to introduce my WV friends to good Asian food, since I couldn't keep holding out hope for a dim sum restaurant in central WV.
So anyway, thank you again. And your book is now my favorite gift for other rural dumpling lovers.
After making about 500 dumplings with close to 30 people, I was blown away by Emily's 600 dumplings. She did it by herself! WOW. I'd never received that kind of thrilling fan mail before.
On Sunday, my friend in Seoul, Yun Ho, emailed to share a tip on Korean dumpling making. And, to top it off, uber food blogger Bee Yinn Low, is hosting a giveaway of the Craftsy online Asian dumplings class at her popular website. There are two (2) FREE class enrollments up for grabs so hop on over to Rasa Malaysia to enter.
It is always hard for writers to gauge the longevity and impact of their work. As I gear up for The Banh Mi Handbook release in July, I’m stoked that I can still engage people in making dumplings, brewing up pho, and making tofu (more details on a terrific, 1-day workshop at the Insitute of Domestic Technology in Los Angeles soon).
Print and digital books, in-person and online classes, home and professional cooks, men and women -- it’s happening kind of full tilt boogie. Thanks for being along for the ride.