Preparation, precision and consistency are hallmarks of a successful business – and great dumplings.
Ever wonder what it takes to make a restaurant a long-running success in Seattle? We peeked into the kitchen of Wild Ginger, a Seattle institution since 1989, to find out. The preparation and precision required are best summed up in the journey of Wild Ginger’s house-made, hand-stuffed chicken potstickers.
Potstickers are Chinese dumplings, pan-fried and steamed morsels of delight. Properly made potstickers are crispy on the outside and moist – but not doughy – on the inside. The Chinese have been enjoying potstickers since the Song dynasty (960 – 1280 A.D.). Wild Ginger has been serving them for 25 years.
“It’s a signature dish of all our locations,” says co-owner Rick Yoder. But this one little item, which looks simple, and is devoured quickly by the plateful, requires rigorous training, dexterity and speed by a dedicated team of two women. Six days a week, these cooks, who have worked at Wild Ginger for more than 15 years, make the dough by hand, roll it out, measure the filling, and fill and pleat each dumpling in a Chinese tradition so intricate it takes a week to learn and hundreds of dumplings to perfect.
Restaurant manager Brad Yoshitomi says, “They are amazingly exact in what they do every day. What most might think is a little appetizer is a real project when you do everything by hand.” It’s time-sensitive, too. “We can’t miss a day or we’re off for the rest of the month.”
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The dumplings are filled with a hand-chopped mixture of cabbage, scallions, garlic, ground chicken and spices, then seared on a flat-top grill and steamed. “We have really worked hard not to use machines and technology in place of the human touch,” says Yoshitomi. “There are new ovens that can do it all at once, but we try to follow the traditional methods. That’s what makes the difference.”
Humor helps, too. Executive chef Kevin Chiang says recording daily production levels inspires friendly competition among the prep crew. Apparently, the record for fastest potsticker is 15 seconds – but it was misshapen and unrecognizable, which made the kitchen erupt in laughter. Chiang says that fun exercise has purpose: “It enabled them to brainstorm a more efficient way to cut production time without sacrificing quality.”
Reliable quality is the hallmark of any successful business. Yoder says Wild Ginger goes to great lengths to obtain specific high-quality ingredients. The flour used for the potstickers is special-ordered from Hong Kong. Another vital component to success is consistency – keeping a focus on expectations and meeting or exceeding them for every customer, every dish, every meal.
Yoder hires dedicated people who demonstrate a high level of care to what they’re making. “Our kitchen staff is personally invested in their craft, the way bartenders are in craft cocktails. They care deeply about food.” This care carries through to the end product. “These tomatoes just came out of the field; don’t throw them around. You have to respect our product. Care about the food results in a better product at the end of the day. If you care about your customers, and you care about your product, chances are things will get out there properly in a timely manner.”
Chef Chiang agrees: A successful long-term restaurant must have passion, persistence, guest satisfaction, food quality, flavor consistency, timing, service and the ability to get out there and make it happen – whether making the elegant house specialty of succulent fresh duck with Sichuan peppercorn and five spice, or a single perfect potsticker.
Visit Wild Ginger at 1401 Third Ave. Hours are 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Sat. and 4-9 p.m. Sun., with late-night happy hour Mon.-Sat. from 9 p.m. to close.