Christine Yee was destined to be in the food business. Her love for food started at a young age while working in the family restaurant, and after moving to Vancouver she was inspired to start her own healthy Asian-inspired food line. House Of Yee Fine Foods creates healthy vegan gluten-free dumplings for both restaurants or home cooks’ guests to enjoy, guilt-free.
Sails & Spices met up with Christine Yee on a gorgeous Vancouver summer morning at Granville Island to talk about her growing gluten-free dumpling business. While browsing through the farmers market we talk about what it’s like to launch a culinary start-up and how growing up in a family restaurant inspired her to carry the brand forwards and share her love of food.
Sails & Spices: Christine Yee, thank you for meeting with us today on Granville Island! We have been looking forward to talking with you about your gluten-free dumpling business. What inspired you to start House of Yee Fine Foods?
Christine Yee: I knew I always wanted to work with food because I grew up with our family’s restaurant, but I also knew how hard it is and have a lot of respect for people who run restaurants.
One early morning at 5am, I just woke up and thought, ‘I’m going to start a healthy food line!” and somehow gluten-free dumplings just came to me. I started looking into what gluten-free is, and how to make the wrapper. I pretty much just locked myself in the kitchen and tested and tested and tested. There was flour everywhere but I just went with it.
Before this I worked as a realtor, and real estate was quite easy to me, but House of Yee is completely different. It’s like trying to build a house by yourself that no one’s built before, and then trying to sell it. So it was a really steep learning curve.
Sails & Spices: It’s easy to see you have so much passion for this business! How did growing up in a restaurant environment influence you?
Christine Yee: The House Of Yee name actually came from Saskatchewan where my dad owned the restaurant. There were 5 of us, so my dad and my brothers would be in the kitchen, while my mom, sister and I would take care of customers. Even though I grew up in a restaurant, the labor that goes into creating a food line was quite shocking to me – I never realized it was so much work. The restaurant closed 5 years ago, so when I came up with the idea for gluten-free dumplings it was naturally going to be called House of Yee. I simplified the old logo and modernized it, and now it’s the resurgence of House of Yee!
Sails & Spices: How did you go about developing the dumplings into what they are today?
Christine Yee: Listening to your customers is so important and I get really good feedback from my home deliveries. Every time someone orders I always follow up with not just ‘how was the product’, but also ‘how did it taste, what did you think of the packaging, did you like the texture of the wrapper, and was it easy to cook?’ I’ve been able to make the product better in many ways. Now the wrappers are thinner, we include a cooking video with instructions on how to cook the dumplings, and we are planning on including new dipping sauces.
Sails & Spices: We’ve tasted these vegan gluten-free dumplings and they are delicious, I can’t think of a better vegan dumpling I’ve ever tried! What’s the secret?
We wanted our dumplings to have color and a good bite, with an amazing taste.
Christine Yee: Well… it’s the combination of vegetables; you have to harmonize the flavors. When you eat it, it was really important to us that it has a crunchy texture, because a lot of vegetable products can be mushy and quite bland. Each of the vegetables have their own flavor, none of them are there as a filler. We wanted our dumplings to have color and a good bite, with an amazing taste.
Sails & Spices: What makes your dumplings so unique is the fact that they are both vegan and gluten-free. How did you personally make the transition to becoming gluten-free?
Christine Yee: It all started with me wondering how it would feel to eat gluten-free. I wasn’t prepared for it the first time I tried, so I couldn’t find anything to eat the first week! When I decided to transition again I started meal planning, doing a little more research, and eating at home a lot. By not eating fast food, burgers, or processed food your appetite shrinks, your energy level goes up, and you body just feels it.
Sails & Spices: What about when you do dine out, where are your favorite place to eat in Vancouver?
Christine Yee: I love going for sushi, because that’s such a big Vancouver thing. Luckily sushi is gluten-free, but you have to watch out for soy sauce, so now when I go out I bring my own packs of tamari. You wouldn’t think it, but wheat is in just about everything.
You wouldn’t think it, but wheat is in just about everything.
Sails & Spices: The same thing goes for being vegan or vegetarian, by planning in advance and making small adjustments we are still able to enjoy many of the things we enjoyed before changing to a new diet.
So we are dying to know, what does your kitchen look like? What are your favorite ingredients and tools?
Christine Yee: I like to eat clean, so I really love my spiralizer. I’ve made ‘zoodles’ with everything, pasta sauces, baked, or in a soup with a really nice vegetable broth and some dumplings. I’ve even got my brothers eating healthier!
Sails & Spices: Dumpling soup sounds delicious, we’ll definitely need to try it. What are all the ways you can enjoy these House of Yee dumplings?
Christine Yee: There are three ways you can prepare them – You can steam them, put them in a broth, or just pan-fry them. A little oil, a splash of water, cover and that’s it… so easy.
Sails & Spices: Can you share with us what type of sauce you would serve with your vegan pot stickers?
Christine Yee: I like to put together a very simple sauce, with tamari, rice vinegar, sesame oil and a little bit of sugar. Most dumpling sauces on the grocery store shelves are not gluten-free because they’re soy sauce based, so I love to make my own.
Sails & Spices: What we like most about these dumplings is that the flavors are great, they’re simple, fresh and made by House of Yee, which is family run. This is our kind of food! Where can readers get some of these dumplings if they want to order today?
Christine Yee: Right now [July 2017] we offer local deliveries to both restaurants and private shoppers in Vancouver B.C., and you can order either through House of Yee’s Facebook or Instagram pages. I’m also working towards selling in select grocery stores really soon, so stay tuned!
A big thanks to Christine Yee for meeting with us and sharing what it’s like to open a small culinary business for this local edition of Sails & Spices: Meet the Chef!
Christine Yee portrait and all dumpling photos captured by Dawn Stenzel Photography.
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