Chef brings dumplings and conversation menu to town
PUBLISHED: 09:22 19 February 2020 | UPDATED: 09:45 19 February 2020
A humble man cooking fresh humble food. Yet there is so much to boast about when it comes to ‘I am dumpling’, a stall he runs weekly in Essex and Cambridge, including Saffron Walden.
If there is a universal food, that is dumplings, according to Andrew Blundy, a street food stall owner, who has not only diversified the Saffron Walden market square this year, but has also brought the most unusual menu in the town: a conversation menu.
"Everyone on the planet makes dumplings," he said about the international dish. "The way it originated is taking something from last night, reusing it, and selling it. That is not what we do, but that is the original story of it."
Andrew went from making taste buds dance at a Greek restaurant in St Albans, to being a cook for 30 years all over the world, an executive chef for a five-star hotel and obtaining Michelin awards in the famous guide for a lunch omlette he served around eight years ago at a pub in Broughton Gifford (near Bath).
He worked in Africa and in the Middle East, but it was his work in Asia which inspired him to start his street food business in England, which was modelled around the 'hawker' concept - a person who travels around selling goods.
Pointing to the dumpling carts he cooks in, he said: "These little carts are very reminiscent of Asia. It's one of the most humble foods on the planet, and from a cook's perspective, that is the Holy Grail," he said.
Andrew explained the dumplings typically have to be really good quality and really good value for money, as, in Asia there are so many street food sellers, that anything other than this drives customers towards competitors. Thus, he believes good quality food does not have to be expensive: "I think they are really good value, they are truly world-class for Greggs prices."
But that is not the only value he is trying to bring to his customers, whom he describes as "open-minded" when it comes to food: he also tries to get people talking through his conversation menu:
"I don't think we talk to each other enough. This is how we will get to the bottom of things."
The chef says there are a lot of topics on the menu he is quite good at - but he is willing to talk about anything. It is, in fact, a conversation with a physicist regarding geometry being a universal language and a "theory of everything" that stirred his interest in listening to customers.
He said: "It's really nice when you do get to talk to someone, what do you know which I don't? This is how I get to learn from others. Everyone on the planet knows at least one thing that I don't know.
"We have to be curious about everything. If you can find out what other people know that you don't, you are a better human being. We spend too much time finding fault in each other. We find something we are good at and think we are better human beings. We have been sold a lemon that everything is a competition; if life is a competition, why weren't we born at the same time?
"If an old person walks by and you go, 'how was your day?', they may say "meh", but if you go 'what did you do during the war?', their eyes light up and I think that is the conversation I want to have.
"There should be nothing that is taboo, but that in essence is controversial."
Passerby Joe Shanks, who regularly comes to get his breakfast from the stall, said to Andrew: "The thing that made me stop and talk to you is that people make things controversial when they don't fully understand them."
Andrew says his target consumers are "open minded when it comes to food". "It's not intelligence thing, or a money thing, it's an open mind thing; if you are open-minded, you are willing to try new things, it's a thing about life."
He is dyslexic and championing making conditions such as his and anxiety (which he had direct contact with through the experience of an acquaintance) something that people should be using as a personal power. His business card spells his Facebook page, where he intends to post where he can be found during a certain week, as "I am dumping", but it is meant to be "dumpling."
He can currently be found in the Saffron Walden market square on Tuesdays, in Bishops Stortford on Thursdays, in Cambridge on Saturdays and is planning a stall in St Albans on Wednesdays.