Stories Of Cooking
Author: Sarah Sumpter, Research Assistant at Kingston University
“This is a research project focused specifically on bringing communities together on the basis of ethnic food and the ethnic food entrepreneurs like Yvonne, who bring their stories into the food they are making and leave an impact on all of us as we remember where we come from, but also as communities enhancing togetherness.”
Sunday, 4th December 2022. Clouds of water vapour hang in the quiet morning air as the team and I begin our day by artfully maneuvering a large but surprisingly nimble stage down Danebury Avenue, rattling our way to Bulls Green in Roehampton.
Danebury Avenue. Credits: Own.
Early risers and their dogs looked towards us perplexed. This wonderful contraption was a design idea conceived by a team of staff and students at Roehampton University led by Glenn Odom. It was part of a project funded by the Design Council London to be used for community events, perfect for what we had in mind. It had wheels that allowed us to transport it by foot as well as a solar panel roof to run its own independent power supply, so to paraphrase we were cooking with sunlight.
The Stage. Credits: Own.
So, why were we out on that 4 degrees Celsius morning? Well, we had fortunately come across a community of chefs known as the Kin-spiration group (find them on Instagram @thekinspirationgroup) a collective of female and non-binary chefs of colour from different culinary niches and backgrounds who use the inspiration of loved ones (kin) to influence and guide their recipes.
The Kin-Spiration Group. Credits: Own.
One of the chefs, Yvonne Poon (Instagram @Yvonneyponne), had agreed to come and share her knowledge and personal story of Chinese dumpling/Jiaozi making at a live cookery demo that was to be held outside on Bulls Green that day.
Yvonne is Hong Kong Chinese and was raised in London. She’s a development chef who articulated her primary purpose in life to me as “passing down food knowledge” which if you are lucky enough to meet her will become apparent in the way she describes her journey with food. She also happens to be a captivating speaker and storyteller.
Chef Yvonne Poon. Credits: Own.
During her demonstration, she talked about the prominence of dumplings during the Qing dynasty and the significance of the dumplings being made on Lunar New Year, and how they signify and prosper familial love. Though we all laughed when Yvonne and her sister unexpectedly shared their favorite way of eating dumplings growing up: with ketchup on top!
Folding of Chinese Dumplings. Credits: Own.
Her demonstration was gripping, and we all marveled as her well-trained fingers pinched and folded the paper-thin dumpling wrappers, hugging the meaty contents neatly inside (quite a feat considering the almost sub-freezing temperatures)!
Ingredients. Credits: Own.
I can remember my pleasant surprise when tasting one. Freshly plucked from the hot pan and with the final dowse of chili oil and soy sauce still dripping I put the dumpling in my mouth. The bottom gently crisped, and opened satisfyingly as the flavors inside melted together. My surprise came from the intricacy of flavors that were so simple, each ingredient subtly amplifying the next. One bite yet lasted forever. Perhaps it was the buildup, or the story itself, or the final seasoning, that had added additional appreciation?.
Either way, it was a joyful experience of Chinese cuisine and culture, upfront and personal.
Tips from Yvonne’s demonstration:
- Dark soy sauce is used to impart and enhance colour rather than flavour. For seasoning, light soy sauce will do.
- Don’t use sesame oil for cooking, traditionally it’s used as a condiment, to impart flavour after cooking.
- Chinese cuisine is all about layering flavours.
- The importance of balancing umami in the dish.
- Be patient when steaming your dumplings, so you get a lovely golden crisp bottom.
- Don’t overfill the dumplings.
- When in doubt, go with Lee Kum Kee, Yvonne’s personal favourite brand (she jokingly assured us on her 3rd recommendation that she’s not sponsored, although based on her passion I think she should be. Lee Kum Kee take note!).
Here is a link to a video of Yvonne demonstrating the art of Chinese dumpling folding.
If you would like to support the fantastic work of the Kin-spiration group, they are currently crowdfunding for a cookbook that will feature zero-waste recipes written by women from marginalized communities and the stories behind the recipes, including the person who inspired them to cook. The link to the crowd funder is here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/tpp3t-help-get-our-poc-led-cookbook-to-publishers?qid=428df30473b42ccc9fe7b15f55a7f8c4
Many thanks to Yvonne and Fatima from the Kin-spiration group, as well as Glenn Odom and his team from Roehampton University and my colleagues Richa Gandhi and Dr Nevena Nancheva from Kingston University and all the attendees for making this enriching community event possible.