An interview with Dumps A Go Go's Annajele Magoon

UV Edible Explorations gets the lowdown on the Upper Valley's new dumpling catering business

White River Junction has experienced something of a food renaissance over the last few years, it seems as though new restaurants and purveyors have been springing up all of the time.  A unique new addition to the town's food scene is Dumps A Go Go, a catering business specializing in dumplings from around the world.  

The brainchild of local chef Annajele Magoon, Dumps A Go Go offers a selection of different styles of dumplings with a broad array of fillings. After having sampled her work at events at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, I decided to contact Ms. Magoon for an interview in order to find out more of her story.

How did you get started cooking?
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I grew up here in Vermont, 15 minutes away in Thetford. My brother and I are second generation immigrants from my Mothers side of the family which are from Mexico. The beginning started from the actual moment I was born. When the question "what should we name your sister?" came up, my brother, before even meeting me, said "cookbook." Little did he know, that,  that word would define my passion.

Getting an early start in the culinary arts life

How long have you been cooking professionally?
Professionally is such an odd word in the culinary business. Most chefs start out dishwashing at the age of 15 or 16 and continue moving up the ranks as time goes on. With that being said, being the youngest person and the dishwasher usually means you're expected to help during a rush or any order the Chef barks at you to do. While you move up and your skills develop you could be on the line before you even graduate high school so that would be where the word professionally gets a little weird. 

I started working at the age of 15 after school in a college cafeteria. I slowly moved my way up and was thrown on the line. So to make this story short, I always say 6 years. 

Where did you go to school?
I went to school at the International Culinary Institute in New York City. The most beautiful place in the world and the most fun place to be!
What was your experience there like? My experience there was short and sweet. The ICC is nothing like a liberal arts school. Its more of a trade school. The place is setup up for culinary and culinary only. There are no other "electives" or class schedules or signing up for new semesters. Most programs are 9-15 months all being intensive training for 8 hours a day. There are a very strict set of rules that you must follow. It is not a cheap experience but you get exactly what you put into it and it shows. 
How would you describe your approach to cooking?
My approach to cooking is very simple. Buy local, do everything with a purpose, and have fun! Always support your local economy as much as you can. Here in Vermont the incentives for buying local are incredible and we are very fortunate. Meat, eggs, produce, body products, we have everything you need in the Upper Valley area. Do everything with a purpose. It all starts with your first step into the grocery store. For example: when using meat or produce I think to myself "how much am I realllllllly going to use?" I know that when I look at 4lbs of beef over the Co-op counter (which i actually cant see over), my initial response isn't " this will make exactly 783 dumplings, perfect!" Knowing my product and knowing my portion control is a real key to not overspending and misusing a product. The fun part is just as it sounds. Dance, wiggle, make funny voices, talk to your dog or frog, listen to music, or start a food blog, even fatten up your neighbors! Do not let burnt cookies or dry chicken defeat you, you are not cooking for an audience, you are cooking to nourish your body and mind.
Do you have any favourite cuisines?
 My favorite cuisine is Asian. It is an unbelievable art that has been passed down for generations that only gets better over time. The dedication, the spirit, and the patience that goes into creating the authentic comfort foods of each country usually blow my mind. I watched a video recently of a man who had been making noodles (you may be saying okay, so just noodles) for 50 years that people pay thousands of dollars for. The noodle industry is definitely not where people make the big bucks but it shows you that it was never about that. It's about mastering one skill and putting your whole being into it.

Do you have any favourite ingredients?
My favorite ingredients are definitely garlic, onions, and salt. Each of them having their own complexities. But the master of them all is sour cream. In case you are wondering, i do have a favorite and in case you wanted to know the brand its Cabot.
Do you have a signature dish?
I think my family has appointed me to being the pancake princess. I make some pretty mean banana pancakes that usually travel next to me in the morning on the car seat with the warmer on. 
What has your experience working in the industry been like, particularly as a woman of your ethnicity?
There is a lot of room for change and improvement. It is very mentally and emotionally demanding. Yes the hours are long and pay isn't great but that's what you do when its a passion not a job. The social dynamic in kitchens is very hit or miss. You can work with a team that cares about their job and come in happy everyday or you can work with a team that all keep their heads down and complain under their breathe. I have yet to find my place. My attitude towards my career is often burdened by lack of care given by my team. I forget that this is my dream and for them its a paycheck. Being a second generation immigrant means you understand what its like to not fit in especially in a white majority state. Not only have I had to report sexual harassment, I've had to report racial discrimination and gender discrimination. I've had owners and chefs make some pretty horrific statements to my face that all I can do is walk away from. 

You have to be proud of yourself, and what you do. You have to respect yourself, and demand respect in the kitchen which is what I do.

Tell me a little about your venture, Dumps A Go Go.
Dumps-A-GoGo is always on the GOGO! I created this business from my heart. It's a dumpling catering business based out of White River Junction that creates homemade dumplings. I have a $25 minimum for ordering but that's the only catch. I deliver, set-up, tear down or just do home deliveries for anyone in the area. Most people consider a dumpling to be a savory Asian appetizer but we actually have dumplings all over the world and all different sizes for dinner or dessert. You take a dough, you take a filling, you put the filling in the dough and voila! A dumpling. Empanadas, gyoza, bao,  and buuz are just some varieties I have made so far.
What inspired this?
I was inspired by my low fuel light as i pulled into Dumpling Palace in Boston to pick up 4 dozen dumplings that I couldn't stop craving. As an extreme dumpling lover, I sometimes go through withdraws and need to get a fix. I'd stop at Toro for empanadas and then Myers and Chang for bao and then Dumpling Palace for dumplings which became as you can see, way too much work. I still do this once a month but never like I used to. Instead, I learned to do it myself. I had been making dumplings since i was 16 when I started working for Kenny Lao from Rickshaw Dumplings in NYC which was a blessing. I then learned empanadas at Candela in Hanover, NH and slowly the idea began. What if I just made dumplings for everyone!
What has your experience running Dumps A Go Go been like so far?
It has actually been really rewarding so far. I don't find myself struggling with employees. I don't have to worry about produce deliveries being late or not being able to make it to work. The Upper Valley Community is sending me positive responses and it feels...comfortable.I enjoy what I do, I love seeing my customers faces, and I love coming up with such interesting ideas with each of my clients. People have been reaching out to me from all over and I even had a lady in Maine somehow get word and we met halfway for a dumpling drop off. I wish that I had a giant steam bun decal for my car just so you could see me a mile away. 

I think that hardest part of running Dump-A-GoGo has been building up confidence in sales. I have always been very confident in the kitchen and in restaurants but having to sell someone a product you make face to face is a little odd for me. As much as I lack confidence, the customers make up for in enthusiasm and curiosity which is a life saver. I'm lucky in that no one hates dumplings and if they do, they're definitely not contacting me about it. 
Do you have any plans for the future that you'd like to share?
My future is filled with all good things. Continuing the business and working with other businesses in the area to spark each others' fires. I love working with independent owners which isn't hard here in Vermont. Two minds are better than one.

I hope to start attending the Farmers Markets in the spring so be on the lookout! I've also been reaching out to Wedding Coordinators. If you're having a wedding a coming up and are looking for a custom dumpling catering menu please feel free to reach out!
Any other thoughts that you'd like to share?
I just want to thank the community for helping me with a dream and supporting a second generation female immigrant out here in White River Junction during a time that this nation is against me and against us all. I wouldn't and couldn't be here if it wasn't for your support. Buy local. Eat local. and continue supporting each other.

For all of your dumpling needs.

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