How to make dumplings 3 ways: Hamilton chef's Asian cooking class connects people through food

Joyce Leung is using cooking classes to help people connect to Asian culture. Her Saturday class focuses on dumplings, ahead of Lunar New Year.

Joyce Leung's Lunar New Year class on Saturday focuses on dumplings, which signify wealth

Joyce Leung said her online Asian cooking classes have helped connect her and others to their culture. (Submitted by Joyce Leung)

When Joyce Leung remembers what it was like spending the first years of her childhood in Hong Kong, one thing races to the front of her mind.

"Even when I look back at pictures of when I was a kid in Hong Kong, I was always surrounded by delicious food," said the 36-year-old Hamilton resident.

"In Hong Kong and a lot of Asian countries, eating is just part of growing up, being with family, cooking and eating."

But despite growing up with her parents making that food for her regularly, Leung said she didn't always know how to make those meals on her own. She knew others in the same situation too.

"I really wanted to teach people how to cook Asian food," she said.

"A lot of people tell me that they're very intimidated with the ingredients of the process … so they really want to learn."

Cooking lessons spice up pandemic

Leung knew the restaurant industry well, working as a restaurant manager, line cook and server. She also already had a part-time food blog.

That's when Joyce of Cooking was born — then a side hustle — which is a platform that combines marketing for small business owners with Asian cooking classes.

She hosted a few successful in-person cooking lessons at The Casual Gourmet in Hamilton's Westdale neighbourhood.

"Then the pandemic hit," she said.

"I wasn't really sure. Are people going to want to do cooking lessons online? So I just decided to try and see."

WATCH: Joyce Leung explains how cooking classes connect people to culture

Joyce Leung explains how cooking classes connect people to culture

4 months ago
Duration 1:21
Joyce Leung explains how cooking classes connect people to culture

Two years later, it's as strong as ever.

The weekly classes are usually 45 minutes to an hour long and Leung is hoping to do more in-person classes soon. 

She uses polls on Instagram to figure out what to teach next. She also pairs with local businesses to offer things like cocktails along with the lesson.

A dumpling class this Saturday

Leung said it's brought her and others closer to their culture.

"I've connected with a lot of people in the same boat as I am, where they're Chinese or Asian and grew up eating a lot of the similar foods I grew up eating and it's kind of lost … we don't know how to make any of that stuff ourselves," she said.

"As I do more research about why we use certain ingredients or eat certain foods, I feel like I've grown a stronger connection to my culture for sure."

On Saturday, Leung will help others connect to her culture by teaching a class on how to make dumplings three different ways — a good skill to impress the foodies in your life ahead of Lunar New Year on Tuesday.

Leung said people eat certain foods like fish, noodles or dumplings to celebrate Lunar New Year.

WATCH: Joyce Leung shows you how to fold dumplings

Joyce Leung shows you how to fold dumplings

4 months ago
Duration 4:00
Joyce Leung, from Hamilton, shows off how to fold dumplings.

"Dumplings are supposed to signify wealth and that you're going to have a prosperous new year and the reason is because the dumplings look like a gold nugget," she said, with a dumpling in her hand.

Leung said the Saturday class includes a collaboration with Michelle Li, a Korean-American reporter who faced racist comments after mentioning on-air she eats dumpling soup for new years. 

It sparked awareness for Asian discrimination and drew support for Li online. 

Leung and Li connected over their shared love of food and Li has since helped to promote Saturday's class on her social media channels. 

"It's great to see people feel inspired to share their pride," Li said in an email to CBC Hamilton. "I wish I could take the dumpling class, too! I'm humbled by this movement, and what it's meant to people."

Leung said she feels that context adds even more significance to what she's doing.

"Racism is still definitely a thing that's happening … talking about it is truly important and having that platform to do it, I think it's really important to do so," she said. 

'It really perked me up'

Wendy Peng, 57, said she's always loved Asian cuisine and said she was looking for something to do when the pandemic started in 2020.

Peng said Leung makes it easy, by sending people a list of ingredients in advance, offering substitution items for people walking them through the lesson step-by-step and catering to all experience levels.

"It does create a sense of community and we don't just talk to Joyce, we kind of talk to each other a little bit as well. Not too much because everyone is busy," Peng said with a giggle.

WATCH: Wendy Peng explains how cooking classes kept her motivated

Wendy Peng explains how cooking classes kept her motivated

4 months ago
Duration 0:55
Wendy Peng explains how cooking classes kept her motivated.

She said the classes have helped her get through the pandemic.

"It really perked me up, it re-inspired me," she said.

"I had a hard time, you get a little depressed and drawn out  … which is unlike me. It really helped me get over that and just have fun again."


Bobby Hristova is a reporter for CBC News in Hamilton. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.


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