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'It's Almost Meditative': Fort Collins Restaurateur Folds Dumplings For Thousands

Sam Graf has made tens of thousands of dumplings, by hand, since March, serving them steaming hot from the driveway of his Fort Collins home. Graf calls this pandemic-era food experiment “Big Trouble, Little Dumpling.”

“I really liked folding dumplings because it's almost meditative,” Graf said. “It's a very redundant movement and I know you can kind of get lost in it. It reminds me of activities like raking leaves or something. You can watch it progress as it goes. And it's just very calming.”

On Tuesday mornings, a few friends come over to Graf’s home to watch movies while making dumplings, ramen broth and sometimes Vietnamese-style Banh Mi sandwiches.

Big Trouble Little Dumpling
Sam Graf and friends make dumplings with pork and kimchi on a recent Tuesday morning.

“So today I've got a kimchi and pork dumplings,” Graf said on a recent Tuesday morning. “I've done chicken and garlic and ginger. I've done jalapeno and black bean and shiitakes. I mean you could put anything in a dumpling.”

It all gets boxed up and left on a table outside so that people can grab what they want, contact-free. Graf says he has served thousands of people in this way, starting back in March when Colorado’s stay-at-home order took effect. Graf’s restaurant in Fort Collins, Music City Hot Chicken, had to close down temporarily which meant suddenly he had a lot of unneeded perishable ingredients.

“I didn't want to waste the food and so initially I started just by cooking off what I could and had the trunk of my car opened in my driveway with a bunch of produce and invited people through our social media to come over and pick through it for whatever they had,” Graf said.

He made some dumplings that day, a practice that he kept up week after week as more and more people began coming to his home.

“So initially it gave me a routine... and it gave me something to do that was rewarding and it gave me something new to learn,” Graf said. “I don't think there's any other time in my lifetime where this would be something that would attract people in the amounts that it has... Outside of kids selling lemonade at a small neighborhood bake sale, I've never come across anything like I'm doing before.”

The dumplings are free but the project mostly pays for itself through donations. People tell Graf they’re grateful, that they look forward to his cooking every week.

“I think it's very important to take care of the people in your immediate surroundings and just be kind to people and offer help if you can,” Graf said. “For me, my love language has always been giving and creating. I love cooking and have loved cooking my entire life. I think this is another way for me to kind of continue to express that.”

As KUNC's mental health reporter, I seek to create a sense of urgency and understanding around issues related to mental illness, access to care and happiness in Northern Colorado and our mountain communities.
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