In Season 2 of the national PBS series Lucky Chow, LUCKYRICE founder Danielle Chang connects with folks from all walks of life. Lucky Chow opens up these unique individuals and their stories in an ongoing narrative of just how much Asian culture – and its cuisine — has become a part of our lives today.
In addition to local PBS airings, Lucky Chow makes its debut tomorrow on PBS’ lifestyle channel Create on both Tuesdays and Thursdays at both 8:30 AM and 2:30 PM Eastern time.
We chat with Danielle to get behind-the-scenes of Season 2.
LUCKYRICE: How did the experiences from filming Season 2 help you to further understand your own culture?
Danielle: I feel so lucky to produce and host Lucky Chow because this series gets to the heart of why I started LUCKYRICE in the first place: to share stories about Asian culture with a broader audience. I grew up in a traditional Chinese household so there’s a lot for me to learn about other Asian cultures. I’m also fascinated by how such diverse cultures – and foods – can all be found in our backyards. That exploration forms the backbone of Season 2.
Episode 1 – Trending Japanese
LUCKYRICE: The bento boxes you made with Sheri Miya of xx are adorable! Not only that, but they perfectly fuse Japanese cultural facets of kawaii (cute) and otaku (obsession) in a way that’s fun and nutritious.
Danielle: Yes, I’ve long been a fan of bento boxes and of how this very traditional Asian concept has become so popular with non-Asian communities. For example, a lot of moms globally have turned their love of bento box crafting into full-time careers as bloggers. This episode is about how the uniquely Japanese concept of otaku (broadly translated as obsessiveness, be it with manga, sumo, or in this case, bento) crosses over into its food culture.
LUCKYRICE: Would you ever make bento boxes for your girls?
Danielle: Well, after watching the episode, my younger daughter decided to have a bento box crafting birthday party. It’s a lot of fun!
LUCKYRICE: What was it like to get in the ring with a sumo wrestler?
Danielle: Something I never thought I’d find myself doing! And definitely a memorable highlight of the season. Aside from the sweaty action, I’m inspired by the reverence sumo wrestlers have for this ancient Japanese tradition. They don’t take their role lightly. In fact, sumo is a 24-hour job and interwoven into everything they do—including cooking and eating. The art of sumo is also highly ritualistic. For instance, chanko nabe (or sumo stew) is not just fuel for training, but also symbolic since the stew is made with chickens. Chickens stand on two feet, just like a sumo! Even the hierarchy behind the cooking embodies the continuation of these traditions. The apprentices do all the prep work just like how kids in a Asian family are expected to do the grunt work.
Episode 2 – Farm to Table
LUCKYRICE: Kristyn Leach seems like such an inspiration. We couldn’t believe the level of dedication to sustainability she exhibits in her hand-grown farming methods. The way she talks about how the farm and the crops its yields speak to the beautiful nature of Northern California.
Danielle: I really fell in love with Kristyn Leach, who farms for the Lee brothers who run the restaurant, Namu. Krysten is actually a former New Yorker and fashion designer who now farms for a living. Since she was adopted from Korea, farming heirloom Korean vegetables is a way for her to get to know her roots, literally! She still farms by hand, with only one assistant, so their crop is so small that it only provides for one restaurant (Namu).I have a lot of respect for her.
LUCKYRICE: We can’t believe there’s only one wasabi farm in California! Who knew we weren’t eating “real” wasabi in America. Can you talk about your experience meeting Tim and Jeff of the Half Moon Bay Wasabi Co.?
Danielle: I loved meeting the Half Moon Bay wasabi farmers because they found their path to farming in such a circuitous way, so to speak. They are electricians by trade and stumbled into wasabi farming seemingly by accident. When they learned that wasabi is one of the hardest plants to grow, they seized on the challenge even though they had never tasted real wasabi before then, let alone visit Japan. Now they sell their rhizomes to chefs like Morimoto, so this is like a science experiment that went really well, and amazing route to learning about Japanese cuisine!
Episode 3 – Food of the Gods
LUCKYRICE: This was a big episode because you touched on the subject of religion in Asia, the largest continent in the world.
Danielle: There’s a tendency to think of Asians as Buddhists, so I wanted to also look at other popular Asian religions like Islam and Sikhism. I learned so much – for instance, that Indonesians actually comprise the largest Muslim population in the world. Kiki, our Events Director here at LUCKYRICE, took me to a food fair put on by her local Mosque in Queens and that was a delicious way to learn more about the role of religion (and cuisine) for so many Indonesian communities. I felt really welcome, just as I did at the Hollywood Sikh temple where we visited without making prior arrangements. Actually, they welcome anyone who’s hungry. I walked in and they were all so curious about what I was doing there. Sharing a meal together was such a generous act of hospitality and gave me a lot of insight into their religion.
LUCKYRICE: Yes, food is such an accessible way to share religion because religion is so often something people don’t talk about; it can be a stand-offish topic, even though America is so diverse.
Danielle: I agree. Frankly, I didn’t expect to be welcome everywhere I went. At the same time, offering food is a universal welcome sign. The Sikhs, for instance, greeted me with “Eat! Eat! Come! Be a part of us!” So I sat on the floor and joined them. As Grover, one of the Temple’s members, told me, “whether you’re a king, or a pauper, everyone sits on the floor and eats together”. Well said.
Episode 4 – Made in China
LUCKYRICE: We’re sure so many new mothers were fascinated by Jingmommy’s business operation, nutritionally based meals, delivered, for an entire month?! Everyone should get on board.
Danielle: It was great to meet Nicole, the entrepreneur behind Jing Mommy. When I was pregnant, I had practiced this confinement month, which I thought was really more hocus pocus than nutritionally based, but it’s basically making sure that new mothers replenish and renew after the labor of childbirth. This tradition had been almost tossed out of the window by older generations of Chinese Americans seeking to assimilate to the American way of life (which puts all the emphasis on the baby – and not the mommy – during the months after childbirth). But now that new Chinese immigrants are making the US their home, particularly in places like in San Gabriel, California, they are also bringing their traditions with them. Hence, the birth of businesses like Jing Mommy. I wish I had Jing Mommy around when I gave birth.
LUCKYRICE: How did you find and come in contact with a Chinese American wedding to film?
Danielle: The wedding banquet in San Francisco’s Chinatown came about because I had been looking for a traditional Chinese wedding to film. They were recommended through friends of strangers really and they welcomed us to their wedding. I was seated at the table of honor with the groom’s family and they introduced me as the “Guest of Honor” in front of the entire wedding, which I felt really humbled by. That wedding was between a Chinese American who had grown up in San Francisco’s Chinatown, which is the oldest Chinatown in America, and a mainland Chinese girl who had met the groom in China and he brought her over. It was really like a clash of cultures between the new and old guard and so that was fun to witness.
Episode 5 – The New Indian
LUCKYRICE: So did you find out if that urban legend about New York’s Curry Row is true? Is there really one underground kitchen on 6th Street that sends of the same chicken tikka masala to a slew of restaurants?
Danielle: Ha! I had always wondered where Indian families ate because when you go to Indian restaurants in Manhattan, there’s not a lot of Indian families eating together. Actually, many Indian families don’t traditionally eat out that much, or when they do, they don’t go to Indian restaurants. But I’ve since met a new generation of Indian Americans who are trying to change the stereotype of Indian cuisine being cheap, fattening and all about chicken tikka masala.
LUCKYRICE: Right, similar to the age-old perception of Chinese food as filling, cheap and is only complete with an order of General Tso’s chicken.
Danielle: Right! People now accept that Chinese food is so much broader than chop-suey or take out boxes. In fact, General Tso’s chicken doesn’t even exist in China, just like how chicken tikka masala is the national dish of India of the UK but it’s not popularized in India. I know that inauthenticity has bugged a lot of Indian chefs but I am glad to see Indian restaurateurs embrace the fusion “trend” by creating modern, fast casual restaurant concepts. They’re upping their palates in a way that is making Indian food fun and accessible for a broader audience.
Episode 6 – Taiwan’s True Flavor
LUCKYRICE: It must’ve meant so much for you to create an episode about the foods of Taiwan, where you were born. Any favorite moments?
Danielle: Many! For one, it was a thrill to meet Cathy Erway as I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time. She’s half-Taiwanese and recently came out with Foods of Taiwan. She’s a proud hapa. I’ve probably spent more time in Taiwan than she has but I’ve never really studied true Taiwanese cuisine the way that she has and I’m glad someone has finally put Taiwanese cuisine into its own regional category.
LUCKYRICE: Were the 626 Night Markets like the ones you find in Taiwan?
Danielle: The 626 Night Markets have been such a sensation all over the OC. I think it’s because those who spent time in Asia night markets—be it in Taipei, Penang or Kyoto—are nostalgic for that open-air, street food experience. Although the 626 Night Markets felt distinctly American, what I love about the them is that they operate sort of like food incubators where mom-and-pop restaurateurs and entrepreneurs can find broad audiences.
Episode 7 – Asian Food, American Dreams
LUCKYRICE: Shophouse is such a great concept; it seems like a natural evolution for Chipotle.
Danielle: I’ve always thought to myself: wouldn’t it great if there was an Asian version of Chipotle? And that’s actually what led Tim Wildin to open Shophouse. Tim, who’s half-Thai, convinced Chipotle’s founder, Steve Ells, to “go East” after the two went on an eating tour through Southeast Asia. Tim brought the flavors that his Thai aunties relished — really aromatic, fresh ingredients like galangal, kaffir lime, Thai chilies and tamarind – and coupled it with a DIY fast-casual concept.