Bob Wilhelmy writes the Dining Out column for The American Israelite.

The outdoor signage at China Gourmet in Hyde Park on Erie Avenue


One hopes that Charles Dickens would not have taken offense at the rather weak parody embodied in the above headline.  Sadly, this tale is one involving the loss of a long-time chef at China Gourmet, affectionately known as the Dumpling King. Happily, this tale includes diners-out who realized, and vocally affirmed, the value of his regal work. 

Matthew Loomis, owner of China Gourmet, related the tale to us on a recent visit to his eatery. “In February, when my chef had to quit (because of cancer), we couldn’t keep up on the dumplings,” Loomis said. He explained that dumplings are labor intensive, and that being down a person — the person — in the kitchen made it impossible to meet the demand for the house-made dumplings, in the short term at least. So, what to do?

The pot sticker dumplings with chicken filling

“I went to the Chinese market in Evandale, and I bought maybe 20 types of dumplings to try. So, we’d make as many as we could (from scratch) and when we ran out, I’d tell people we have these other (store-bought, pre-made and frozen) dumplings, but we were out of the hand-made, home-made ones. And the response was ‘no, these are just like the other restaurants have — not nearly as good as yours.’ I had no idea that so many other (Chinese) restaurants were using the pre-made (type of frozen product),” he stated.

But the more important lesson for Loomis was that his scratch dumplings, and more broadly, his scratch kitchen, set his offerings apart from the crowd. “I don’t know how many (Chinese) restaurants are using them (supplied dumplings), but I’m guessing that ninety percent, maybe more, are using frozen product that they buy.”

Since February, the newly installed head chef, who was assistant chef under the former Dumpling King, has gotten up to speed, and Loomis daubed her the Dumpling Queen. The kitchen staffing situation is sorted, and the rhythm and speed of the past mostly has been regained.

According to Loomis, pot-stickers, which are pan-fried dumplings, require a certain skillset that takes time to perfect. The dough is wheat-flour based, rolled out, cut to size, and filled with ground chicken that is seasoned and cooked in the wok. The pattern-cut dough is folded over a dollop of the prepared chicken, sealed, then boiled until cooked. At this stage, the dumplings are put in an ice bath to cool, trayed, and refrigerated. When a patron orders dumplings, they are reheated in boiling water, seared on one side in the wok, and served.

In relating the dumpling saga, Loomis reflected: “I want people to know that we make our own — everything is from scratch — we make our own dough, our own dumplings, our own spring rolls. Spring rolls, we have four different varieties; the duck spring roll, chicken with vegetables, a vegetarian one; those are all good for our Jewish diners.

“We’re bringing in fresh vegetables, not bringing in sliced mushrooms or frozen snow peas. We’re doing all the work (of preparing fresh produce for cooking). We bring in whole chickens and cut them down here. Whole beef tenderloin, the whole tenderloin, for our steak kew and other steak dishes,” he said, adding that the added effort and freshness produces better quality.

Loomis believes the difference is easy to see and taste. For example, he mentioned his summer special salad that was a sell-out hit at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens Zoo-La-La event recently. The salad features fresh cucumber with the seedy center removed. The cukes are sliced very thin, plated, and covered with ice-cooled boiled chicken, which is topped with scallions and drizzled with home-made peppercorn-sesame dressing. “At the zoo, people kept coming back for seconds.”

The cool summer salad made with fresh cucumber and boiled chicken

Two other dishes that showcase the freshness of ingredients are the chicken with snow peas and the Mongolian chicken. The dishes feature China Gourmet’s proprietary 11-ingredient brown sauce, which Loomis describes this way: “A little bit spicy, a little garlicky, a little gingery,” and the dishes are served over a bed of crispy rice noodles. Sounds delicious!

The chicken with snow peas

See you at China Gourmet!