It’s about 7 p.m., a little late for dinner, but on a summer night the sun is still out and Temisanren “Temi” Okotieuro is about to prepare to a favorite meal: Chinese chicken and vegetable dumplings. He begins getting the materials ready in the kitchen of his apartment along the border of Fort Greene and Downtown Brooklyn. His girlfriend, Jamie Williams, sits on the couch in the living room, playing with her curly hair. Their dog, Snickerdoodle, is at her feet, wrapped in a blanket and full from his bowl of kibbles.
Okotieuro stands in front of the cabinets at close to 6–foot-2 inches, a commanding presence in this tight space. He and Williams just moved back to home to New York after finishing college. They haven’t started working yet, so with idle time this summer, they lounge, cook, and eat.
But, with a puzzled look, Williams says, “Temi can’t cook.” The remark seems partly a joke and partly serious, and the two go back and forth about his kitchen contributions.
Usually she cooks all the food, she says, but occasionally Okotieuro will show off his modest skills for both of them. On this night, the goal is dumplings. He lays out the dough on a wooden cooking board, next to a bowl of dumpling filling that he has pre-prepared. He uses his pauses in the action, first, to describe his love for Chinese dumplings, using his hands to express himself, “They’re really healthy and really really, really easy. They’re convenient and you can eat like eight or ten of them and you’ll still be good,” he says. “You don’t feel the same as you would if you eat twenty-four French fries.”
Okotieuro begins placing the minced chicken, cabbage, and ginger inside of the assorted pieces of dough. He uses his big hands to delicately fold and tuck the fillings, as if he’s wrapping little gifts, before placing them into a big pot of boiling water. He takes his time, stopping between completing this pattern while talking about how this mini-obsession with Chinese dumplings started.
He says, “I used to go out with my cousin in London to her favorite Chinese dumpling spot in Chinatown. Then when I got back to the states, it just continued on from there.”
His girlfriend interjects, “We’ve both been on a dumpling streak for the past couple of weeks between Atlanta and Brooklyn. Non-stop.”
The water in the pot steams as the dumplings cook and begin to take form. About 15 minutes pass and Okotieuro’s meal is ready. He takes a huge metal spoon and places about 20 dumplings into a big bowl. Williams is still waiting on the finished product while relaxing in the living room, taking full advantage of her time off from the kitchen.
Okotieuro pokes fun at himself, “I cook three times a week, usually. That also includes grilled chicken, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and ramen.”
Williams shakes her head and eats one of the hot dumplings in the bowl as he allows them to cool off. She looks pleased at the outcome, tossing the steaming dumplings back and forth in her mouth in attempt to chew and cool off the food at the same time.
After Okotiuero makes this signature meal, he takes whatever dumplings have not been eaten and bags them up in a Ziploc bag that goes in the freezer. This is the third time he’s cooked this week, about the limit, so he stores them away for another upcoming meal.