Few people embody the phrase ‘cultural entrepreneur’ more so than Danielle Chang, founder of LUCKYRICE, the popular food festival spotlighting Asian cultures and cuisines. Now in its 9th year, LUCKYRICE has held festivals in 8 cities including New York, Miami, Houston, and Los Angeles, and most recently launched a TV series, LUCKY CHOW, and a contemporary Asian cookbook.
TAP-NY had the chance to ask about Danielle’s perspectives into modern day trends in Asian American cuisine and culture.
Born in Taipei as the oldest of three children, Danielle learned Chinese as her first language, and moved to Houston at the age of 5 without knowing any English.
Having spent her childhood summers back in Taiwan, Danielle recalls, “I grew up with food being the center of everything – it was really the most memorable part of my childhood, as I’m sure you’ll hear a lot of Taiwanese say.”
For example, “I love Din Tai Fung – maybe my mom ate it while she was pregnant with me – I cannot get sick of it,” she elaborates.
Danielle began her career at The New York Times and later founded the lifestyle magazine Simplycity. After earning her Masters in Critical Theory from Columbia University, she was a Professor of Contemporary Art History as well as a curator of emerging art. Most recently, she served as the CEO of fashion brand Vivienne Tam.
In 2009, she started LUCKYRICE as a cultural side project after noticing an increasing interest in Asian cuisine in America. “10 years ago, that’s when people were starting to be fascinated with the food I grew up with. That’s when I started seeing people lining up to pay $17 for a good bowl of ramen and breaking the stereotype of Asian food having to be cheap, or coming from a takeout box, or as something sanitized like a California roll,” explains Danielle.
“I felt the opportunity was was right and there was lot of interest in Asian culture – and that’s when I launched LUCKYRICE.”
Prior to starting LUCKYRICE, Danielle had built a couple of small businesses as well, all related to Asian culture, such as Xiao Bao Chinese, a Chinese language and cultural learning school for children in SoHo.
“Although I was new to the food industry, I had worked in a lot of cultural fields – art, fashion, publishing – with food being the most appetizing and universally relevant medium. I thought it was a natural industry to branch out into with my goal being to share stories about Asian culture.”
Since its inaugural festival in New York, LUCKYRICE has since expanded nationally across eight different cities across the United States.
As their mission statement aptly describes:
THE LUCKYRICE FESTIVAL CAPTURES OUR OBSESSION WITH ASIAN FOOD CULTURE THROUGH LARGE-SCALE FEASTS, FESTIVE DINNERS AND GASTRONOMIC GATHERINGS. EAGER TO SHARE STORIES OF ASIAN CULTURE THROUGH THE LENS OF FOOD AND DRINK, WE CREATED LUCKYRICE IN 2010.
By enabling the sharing and exploration of Asian culture, LUCKYRICE has been a pioneer in narrowing the cultural gap felt by many Asian Americans, especially when manifested in food discrimination due to “people making fun of our food”.
Danielle explains, “I had the typical immigrant experience of bringing stewed eggs over rice for lunch. Food has always been a dominant way of exploring a culture.”
Even as Americans of Asian descent only make up 6 percent of the population, in recent years the impact on American cuisine and by extension culture has been outsized. In fact, Asian restaurants as a category has seen explosive growth over the past decade, significantly outpacing all other food categories.
“It’s fascinating how generations later, the opposite is happening now where my teenage daughters are so proud of being Asian and being proud of eating chicken feet. There’s a whole new generation of Millennials exploring food. It’s now a source of fascination – Asian food has never been hipper – we’re the cool kids today.”
When asked what she’s most looking forward to this year, she laughs: “It makes my really happy to see such broad interest in our traditions and culture. For the last 10 years we’ve been focused on the festivals. I’m really excited about next iteration of LUCKYRICE, and I’m working with such wonderful people. We’re working on expanding our platform, doing more storytelling, and developing products that reintroduce Asian tradition, like medicinal broths, soups, food-based skincare, etc.”