Meet Michael P. Lee of Saucy Dumplings!
Saucy Dumplings Photo by Jesse Friedman
Michael, how did you begin making this product?
Food is such an intimate experience for me: my early childhood experiences were associated with food and happiness. One large part of why I cook now is hoping to share that love of food. Another part is the memory of my mom, and what she and my dad sacrificed for me.
For a long time, I didn’t think about cooking professionally, because I’ve seen up close how harsh the food industry is – particularly for immigrants, who do most of its really hard labor. But after working 15 years in civil rights non-profits and foundations, I was ready for a change. So in May 2010, I made a silly-bold decision to leap into the food business.
What’s your cooking background?
As the only child in an immigrant family, I’d hang out a lot in the kitchen with my mom. She was a super-fantastic cook. I learned so much basic Chinese cooking technique from her. Even the spaghetti sauce that she made would have some soy sauce or oyster sauce to it. Her dumplings, pickled mustard and flank steak, and beef chow fun were out-of-this-world awesome.
What do you sell at New Taste Marketplace?
Saucy Dumplings! I sell traditional Chinese and fusion dumplings, meat and vegetarian: shrimp & pork, pork & chives, lomo saltado, tikka masala, each with its own sauce. Soon I’ll also be serving buns, noodles, and soups.
What is your favorite food?
I’m happiest with homey, comfort food of any sort. I don’t consider myself a foodie, so I’m not really on top of all the trendy places the Bay Area has to offer. I have a few of these divey places in Chinatown and the Tenderloin that I sneak off to once in a while for a nice bowl of Vietnamese pho, or anything with lots of sauces. And I love the food friends make for me, because they’re made with care and friendship.
What have you learned from participating in New Taste Marketplace?
Learning more about The Food Pantry at St. Gregory’s gives me an added reminder of what food means to people and in our society. New Taste Marketplace is such a perfect marriage of St. Gregory’s work and the vibrant street food scene that’s exploding here in San Francisco.
I’ve learned a lot about myself too. I usually get very stressed out about preparing for and selling at food markets, and that certainly happened when I did my first New Taste Marketplace– my burners kept short-circuiting and losing power! But even then, there was a certain kind of calmness that I only feel when I’m at St. Gregory’s selling my food. Once I walk through the main doors and into the rotunda and see the mural of dancing figures, I know I’ll be greeted by great volunteers from The Food Pantry who’ve been helping feed hungry people for years.
What is your favorite part of selling dumplings?
I enjoy the creative process of designing different types of dumplings and developing a sauce for each of them. I’m also excited about building a successful business that can further my philanthropic work. I want Saucy Dumplings! to be a for-profit/non-profit hybrid that will contribute back to social causes.
Immigration issues are most near and dear to me. Non-English-speaking immigrants don’t get the services they need, they’re victims of budget cuts and bad jokes. I hope to develop a program that helps immigrant restaurant workers learn English, develop skills to pursue their dreams, and have better access to resources, so they can fully participate in our society.