Photography - HIRO
Text - MINA
Photography - HIRO
Text - MINA
THE DUMPLING KING
Photography - HIRO
Interview - MINA
"What I did with dumplings is to showcase my skillset and cultural root with the common food item. My customers will see the food itself as an entry point to so many other things to be connected - the vendors in Chinatown and that I associate with, the brand itself, and so much more."
People like a face with the product. Matt’s brand is known for precisely that. People call him the Dumpling King, and the Dumpling King is him. Dumpling is one of the most common food items anyone can get anywhere or have eaten once. So what is the buzz with the Dumpling King? It is a small batch, of Chinatown-sourced, handmade frozen dumplings made by the King himself, who is half Chinese and half Canadian and has found his identity through food. What makes it unique is always the person who makes it.
His brand has many things attached - a voice of mixed races, community, culture, food, history, and so many more. When you eat his delicious pork belly dumplings, you think about Matt and want to get to know him personally. That is the power of food - making people want to connect and lifting the spirit of the community.
If you know Matt, he is a man of passion and good humor. He showed up way before us for a VOICE interview at our meeting place, greeted us with a huge smile, and said, " Thank you. You guys are great!". That was a gesture of a genuinely wholehearted guy, and we became a fan of his brand in no time. He is also a good storyteller. There is no better person than himself to talk about how he pours his heart and soul into making his version of authentic Chinese food. Let's leave it to his VOICE to tell the only dumpling story.
VOICE(V): How did the Dumpling King come about?
Matt (M): I always wanted to work for myself, and to be my own boss. The dumpling business was the first opportunity to do that when I started it almost 8 years ago. I had the privilege of a university education, traveling and studying, and working in a big-boy bank job. I did everything I should have expected and done, and it wasn't feeling right. After I left my career in finance, I just started to cook. I went to a culinary school, worked at several kitchens around the city, and did private chef work on the side. Those were good learning experiences, helping me to look at it more as a business. Dumplings came as the next step, and I kept chasing this new venture. The story got picked up by Daily Hive with my phone number on the article, and it went kind of viral! People called in to order my dumplings, and I would make them in the kitchen, bag them, and deliver them straight to customers. That is how it started.
I have delivered to people's homes for the first 4 years. I had a handwritten note for every single client with their name on it. I have seen my customers get married and have kids in 8 years. That is what builds the foundation of the business and the community of the brand.
V: Why did you decide on a culinary path?
M: I grew up watching cooking shows. I always loved to cook, loved to watch my dad cook, and loved to eat. My dad is from Hong Kong, and my mom is Canadian; they love to travel, wine, and dine. We would plan the day around what we would eat! That rubbed off on me growing up.
Through cooking, I express my cultural background and what Chinese food is for me. Cooking has allowed me to connect with people with one food item.
V: Why dumplings?
M: In a practical sense, it keeps well. If you can't sell all, you freeze and sell later. Another reason is for me to culturally self-express in the very common food item but do it my way. The business itself is mandated to source as much as I can from Vancouver Chinatown. It is anchoring in the community which it draws ingredients from. I am very transparent on Instagram about where this food comes from. I source my pork from Dollar Meat Store, a family-owned butcher shop in Chinatown that has been in business for over 50 years. The owner's son is in his late 50s, and I text him my order every Monday, and he delivers it to me. The vegetables and dried mushrooms in the dumpling are all from Chinatown. My dumpling showcases being Chinese the way I am Chinese.
V: Can you describe your connection with Vancouver Chinatown?
M: It is my creative inspiration and nostalgia at the same time. My dad used to work in Chinatown, so our family used to go there for groceries and eat out a lot since I was a little kid. Many businesses in Chinatown are family businesses that I recognize since my childhood. The same guy has been in the butcher shop since I was a little boy. I get dough from the shop where their daughter went to the same high school as me.
In Chinatown, everybody seems to know each other somehow and someway, and it circulates. The angle of my business has been supporting locals, drawing attention to the neighborhood, and showcasing the Chinese side of me. I text my orders in Chinese as they don't do a phone call, and receive old-fashioned handwritten receipts. Sometimes they invite me to eat downstairs with them. The way they do things is very one-on-one and consistent. I have been approached if I want to use different sources, and I always say no. I am not interested in changing the source of my ingredients. It is the core value of my brand.
V: How has the dumpling business influenced your self-reflection on being half-Chinese?
M: Self-reflection on my Chinese identity started when I was young. My dad was too busy working, so I never learned Cantonese. I had to study my family history in school. In university, I studied and focused on Chinese history, Chinese philosophy, and the language of Mandarin and Cantonese. While studying, I spent some time traveling in China and living in Taiwan for a year. Being a mixed race, you ought to feel a little more self-conscious and feel like I am not Asian enough or Chinese enough. I have done much reflecting, and now I feel good about myself.
The business definitely had a secondary effect on my self-understanding a bit more. I work with Chinatown vendors, speak Chinese, and have a Chinese brand - whatever that means. Putting myself out there with my version of Chinese food and seeing people accept it is affirming.
V: How do you find your dumpling different from other brands?
M: I don't know how Chinese or not Chinese my dumpling is or how it is any special. I stick to my three flavors that haven't changed in 8 years: JWB(Johny Walker Black Label Whisky) Pork Belly&Scallion, JWB Pork Belly & Scallion with Dried Chillies, and Taiwanese Style. These are the same flavor since I am in this business! I do the same thing every day! I don't change. That is what people know me as, and I am very grateful that people see the value in my product although it doesn't change. This business shows my cultural background and that I know how to cook Chinese food. Sell the Sizzle, Not the Steak!
V: You work from Coho Commissary in East Vancouver. How do you like it there?
M: I moved in right during the pandemic in 2020. It has been a cool experience to be in their kitchen. I would find it very hard to do this job if you were not around people doing similar jobs. We all make food, so much of it, and we all help out. Coho is like being in a sub-community, almost like a sitcom.
V: What does your production day look like?
M: I arrive at the kitchen by 8:45-9:00 am, and I text my butcher for my order. While I wait for my delivery which usually comes within half an hour, I check on every piece of equipment. Pork belly is ground fresh every morning, and the meat is so fresh and fluffy. Just before 11:00 am, my staff arrives, and we start processing and mixing meat and vegetables by hand. I measure my recipe in privacy, and everything is scaled out so that my staff only needs to mix the ingredients. After that, we start folding with a folk. We have made over 750,000 dumpling to date! I have easily folded over 400,000. I am serious! I take 6 seconds for one dumpling. We freeze them on the same day and deliver them the next day. Repeat.
V: Please share your Canadian side. What is your favorite Canadian food?
M: An ice-cold beer! My mom's parents are from England, so I grew up eating classic roast chicken and roast potato.
V: If you were not running this business, what would you be?
M: I have many hobbies like calligraphy and martial arts. I have trained in Thai boxing for 15 years. If I had more time, I would probably learn more instrumental. I used to play piano and jazz sax. I would also love to be doing more creative thinking, drawing, or writing. I do love to write.
V: What does food mean to you?
M: At this point, I still love studying, talking about, and cooking food. It has changed as I run my business and understand more about the food system, sustainability, profit margin, etc. It has become a complicated relationship, but I still love it. Food is the cool mistress.
V: What is the most joy of being the Dumpling King?
M: I love it when I am with the people in the Coho kitchen when we are all working hard and vibing. The second joy is when I work on events, and see people bring their babies. They want to experience the Dumpling King so badly that they bring the whole family along. I have my clients sending me their babies eating my dumplings. That, to me, is very serious and special.