UPDATE: This post has been updated to reflect CAAMFest Closing Night film’s schedule on March 22, 2015.
Danielle Chang is a food entrepreneur and host of the new 6-episode series, Lucky Chow, CAAMFest 2015’s closing night presentation and is slated to premiere nationally on PBS December 2015.
Chang is also one of the honorees at CAAMFeast Awards: Stories, Food & You on Saturday, March 7 at One Kearny Club in San Francisco. Chef Tim Luym and the Masumotos from the Masumoto Family Farm will also be honored at this one-of-a-kind awards and culinary event that includes tastings from local chefs and restaurants, a live auction, and sneak peeks of CAAM-funded films that include the award honorees.
CAAMFest attendees will be able to see Lucky Chow at the festival on Sunday, March 22, 2015, which also features an Asian-inspired menu at The New Parkway Theater. Lucky Chow follows Chang, who is the founder of the LUCKYRICE culinary festival, as she travels across America, exploring at Asian culture through the lens of food. The series begins with ramen from New York’s Chef Ivan Orkin and also brings us to Berkeley’s Ramen Shop. Chang takes us through LA, San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York and Miami.
Chang was born in Taiwan, itself a food mecca. She has lived in many parts of the U.S., including Houston, New York and the Bay Area. Chang is releasing her first cookbook, LUCKYRICE (Clarkson Potter), in January 2016.
She chats about what it was like to go behind the kitchens, from the Indian-themed Cafe Baadal at Google to the purveyors of Chinese American food.
Can you tell us about Lucky Chow?
Lucky Chow is about the stories behind Asian culture through the lens of food. I also think it’s very much in transition—so that’s what we want to explore. What happens when Asian meets Latino food, or why is Chinese American not authentic as Shanghainese foods? It absolutely is—it has its own history, its own heritage. Lucky Chow is really about exploring Asian food in America, what’s happening, the stories behind the personalities, and shedding light on these cultures.
We explore why people are so obsessed with ramen? How did that become the de facto hipster food that gives people instant social credit when they post a photo on Instagram? We’ll also go to a more historical approach, to talk about the history of New York City’s Chinatown and the original Chinese immigrants who came here and the first dim sum parlor in New York City. It’s a range—we’re really trying to capture the voice of this culinary culture.
What are some of your favorite foods?
It really falls in two categories, like the traditional food that you grow up with. I love hotpot, especially in this cold weather, right? And Taiwanese beef noodle soup and all the traditional dishes that I grew up with. But I also get super excited about these culinary mashups. That, to me, is art today. I was actually an art historian and studied art. I feel like the culinary arts are so much more relevant because it touches people on a more intimate level. So like kimchi tacos—that fascinates me. Koreatown in LA went from being the site of the LA riots in the 1990s, to being such a boomtown these days. It’s an authentic expression of these two immigrant groups that ended up in LA.
Can you tell me a little about your background? I know you are from Taiwan.
Yes, I was born in Taiwan. I moved around a lot. When I was growing up, I went back there every summer. I am still very culturally Chinese. When I first moved to the U.S., we moved to Houston. I didn’t speak a lick of English. I had to take kindergarten twice. I took it in Taiwan, and I repeated it when I moved to the U.S. Back then, I was the only Asian person in my entire school, K-12. People would make fun of me. So it’s just changed so much, and that’s exciting.
Can you tell me about your cookbook?
I like to call it a cultural anthropology: stories about Asian culture through the lens of food. What I am trying to do is to create something different from any other Asian cookbook that’s out there. I selected recipes—because I’m not a chef—that have good stories, whether it’s symbolic or captures what’s going on in the culinary world, especially culinary collisions. So I’ll talk about kimchi tacos, but I’ll also talk about traditional dumplings.
In Lucky Chow, you actually visit the kitchens of Google. What was that like?
Everybody’s fascinated about that institution. They have 26 cafeterias on that campus—it’s like free food for everyone whenever they want. What I was surprised by was their ethos. They really do walk the talk. They sent us to purveyors they source from—Hodo Soy Beanery and Ecopia. These people are revolutionizing the way we’re eating and how we’re farming. It’s not an economical option at this point to have these vertical farms. The fact that Google is putting their dollars behind it, they’re saying, this is important to our ethos as a company. It’s very responsible.
When you were at Google, what did you see or do there?
We went to Baadal, which is there Indian sit-down concept. They have biryani Fridays for 1,200 people. I helped Chef Irvan make biryani. I cannot believe the volume of food they produce. They have a Chinese concept called Jia. I’ve never seen a restaurant like that. They’ll serve a soup, like a simple kind of chicken consomme, or stir fried vegetables. It’s the way that Chinese people eat at home. Their idea is, if we’re taking these people away from their homes, we want to make them feel as much as possible that they’re at home.
I’m really excited to share this. I think it’s about time that these stories are being told. I’m so grateful to you guys for giving us this platform to do this. It would have never happened without you guys. I just think there will be more stories to tell. I can’t wait for the next evolution.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.