Mar 4, 2010
New Company is Marketing Louisiana-Grown 'Jazzmen' Rice
By Judy Walker, The Times-Picayune
Three local childhood friends have a new Louisiana food business that's putting the image of Louis Armstrong on supermarket shelves and commercial kitchens across the region.
Eliot Kamenitz, The Times-PicayuneJazzmen Rice founders George Chin, Andrew Wong and Egbert Ming went to the same church as boys, but attended rival New Orleans high schools.Egbert Ming, George Chin and Andrew Wong have founded Jazzmen Rice, licensed Armstrong's image for the rice's package and, in fall 2009, harvested 500 tons of the hybrid variety that LSU AgCenter growers had been working on since 1996.
The three founders of Jazzmen Rice, LLC, "all got shoved in the same station wagon" to attend Chinese Presbyterian Church when they were growing up, said Egbert Ming.
He, George Chin and Andrew Wong have other businesses and restaurant backgrounds, and they always wanted to do something together. The global rice shortage in early 2008 prompted them to think about rice, Chin said. It's something people will always eat, even in a recession.
Chin's family was in the laundry business in the Carrollton area, and he ate rice three times a day. And, as New Orleanians, they ate red beans and rice on Mondays, Ming said. "We thought, 'Louisiana's well-known for rice, let's grow some rice, ' I said. 'Let's do the jasmine rice, we eat a lot over here, '" Chin said.
Indeed. Long-grain rice rules in Louisiana, but jasmine -- which is softer, stickier and more aromatic than regular long-grain rice -- is a significant niche. According to CommoditiesOnline.com, in the nine years leading up to 2008, rice imports from Thailand nearly doubled, to 500,000 tons. Because transportation costs are less, American-grown jasmine rice should cost less. (Jazzmen's suggested retail price is $2.99 for a 28-ounce bag.)
Chin's wife suggested the aspiring rice growers contact the LSU AgCenter, so they made an appointment and drove to Baton Rouge. It was an eventful trip.
LSU AgCenterAs the LSU AgCenter rice researchers in Crowley developed the jasmine-type rice variety, it was dubbed "Jazzman" in the fields. There, they learned that scientists at LSU's Rice Research Center in Crowley had been working for 12 years on a jasmine-type variety suitable for Louisiana and the Southern rice-growing states.
Since they were halfway there, they asked the professor to call ahead for them, and the three drove on to Crowley, which is between Lafayette and Lake Charles. There, they met with associate professor and researcher Xuenyan Sha, who in turn took them to Steve Linscombe, director of the research station.
"LSU made it clear to us that they didn't know if farmers would grow it unless someone came along and said we will buy it. So we said we'll do the investment, " Chin said.
"It's almost like we stumbled on it, " Ming said.
"It just kind of all fell into place, " Linscombe said.
The first harvest, this past fall, was 500 tons. This year, Wong said, it will be 12,000 tons.
What they are harvesting is the result of a crossbreeding program begun in 1996 between an aromatic Chinese line and Ahrent rice, an Arkansas variety, Sha pointed out. The Thai variety of jasmine rice will not grow in Louisiana's colder climate, which has different soil conditions and a two-hour difference in the length of the days.
Thai jasmine rice is famous for its cooking characteristics as well as its aroma, Sha said. News of the Louisiana rice caused a stir last year in Thailand. The Bangkok Post reported that the agriculture minister there ordered DNA tests on the Jazzmen strain to see if it violated a patent on Thai "hom mali, " as jasmine rice is called. Since it was developed from a Chinese strain, it's inferior, the ag minister concluded.
"We do this to create new opportunities for rice producers here in Louisiana, " Linscombe said. In fact, the aromatic rice program in Crowley dates back decades and includes Louisiana popcorn rice, as well as a basmati type released 12 years ago. The AgCenter is working on an improved basmati now.
"We thought they were very personable gentlemen, " said Linscombe of the New Orleanians who came to Crowley. "When somebody shows up on your doorstep, sometimes you're skeptical, but after just a short time visiting with them, we understood and were convinced they were very earnest in what they were proposing. Hopefully it's going to continue to be successful.
"Is it going to totally transform the industry? Probably not, " Linscombe said of the project. "You've got to remember the vast majority of rice produced in Louisiana is exported; maybe 70 percent is exported outside the United States. The rest is used domestically. But can it create some opportunity to put some more land in rice production? Absolutely. Can it create some more opportunity for guys to make some money? Absolutely."
Linscombe said the "music in your mouth" Jazzmen motto and the image of Louis Armstrong on the package "are all good stuff."
So how did the famous man who signed his letters "red beans and ricely yours" end up on the bags?
Wong gave credit to Lamar Beery, founder of International Marketing Systems (and former chief marketing officer of Popeyes). "He said, 'Who's the most famous jazzman?'" and went to New York to license the image from the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation based there.
When the Jazzmen founders started thinking about rice, one of their advantages was a network of friends and contacts who own and operate Asian restaurants in Louisiana and throughout the country. Chin worked in restaurants while in college and in the 1970s owned the Four Seas in Fat City.
Ming's family owned the Chinese Tea Garden on Elysian Fields. If you weren't in school, he said, you were expected to be at work.
"All the family worked and was expected to work and nobody really got paid, " he said. "It was the family obligation."
Wong's family moved to New Orleans when he was 14, and he eventually owned three Asia Garden restaurants on Bourbon and Barrone streets, and one on Poydras where Harrah's Hotel stands today.
Wong met and married a Thai woman, and eventually moved to Thailand. He owned a Thai restaurant there.
"After Katrina, George kept calling me and saying, 'You have to come back and help rebuild the city, '" Wong says.
Their salesmen are calling on restaurants, hotels and commercial operations and news of the new product is spreading. Chef Susan Spicer recently told The Associated Press that she's impressed with Jazzmen Rice and will use more at Bayona, her restaurant in the Quarter.
Chef Donald Link said he is "related to everybody out there" in the Crowley area, including cousin and rice farmer Billy Link. He picked up some of the Jazzmen at the mill there.
"It's nice. It's really good, " he said. "There's a movement out there where people are starting to look into some new varieties." Link added that he has also tried and enjoyed a brown jasmine rice from the area, which creams up well and can be cooked like risotto.
Chef Geoff Rhode is developing recipes for Jazzmen, including this fantastic one for rice
Eliot Kamenitz, The Times-PicayuneThe jasmine-type rice is so fragrant that no other flavoring is needed in rice pudding.pudding.
Jazzmen Rice Pudding
Makes about 10 half-cup servings
8 cups 2-percent milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup uncooked Jazzmen aromatic rice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Heat the milk, sugar and salt over low heat in a heavy 6-quart saucepan. Slowly heat the mixture to a bare simmer. Do not boil the milk.
Stir in the rice and cook for about 45 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon so the rice does not stick. As the rice cooks, the milk will become very creamy and the rice tender.
Spoon the cooked rice pudding into individual custard cups and refrigerate. Once cooled, cover each with plastic wrap.
Rhode notes that the aromatic rice needs no additional flavorings, but he gives options:
Vanilla: Split a vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the tiny black seeds. Add them and the pod to the simmering milk before adding the rice. Remove the pod before spooning the pudding into the cups. Or add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract in the last 5 minutes of cooking.
Lemon: Add zest of 1 lemon in the last 5 minutes of cooking.
Orange: Add 2 teaspoons orange flower water in the last 5 minutes of cooking.
Rum Raisin: Soak 1/2 cup raisins in 1/2 cup dark rum for 1 hour. Stir raisins into the pudding half way through the cooking time.
Fresh berries can be sprinkled with sugar and macerated for a few hours; spoon over the cooled pudding just before serving.
. . . . . . . .
The Jazzmen founders are good friends with the acclaimed Wong brothers of Trey Yuen, who developed this recipe for them. The rice needs to be room temperature or cooler; hot rice will make the dish lumpy or sticky.
Trey Yuen's Curry Beef Fried Rice
Makes 1 large or 2 small servings
1 tablespoon vegetable or peanut oil
2 whole eggs or 3 egg whites, beaten
5 ounces beef cut in 1/4-inch-wide strips
3 ounces diced white onion
2 cups cooked Jazzmen Rice, cool or room temperature
2 ounces pineapple, cut in small pieces
3/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch white pepper
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
2 green onions, cut crosswise
1/2 teaspoon sesame seed oil
Heat a large cast iron or nonstick skillet and add vegetable or peanut oil (less if using nonstick). Add eggs. When eggs become firm, remove from pan. Reheat pan; add beef and brown beef on all sides. Add white onions and stir until onions are translucent. Add rice and pineapple and stir. Keep stirring to allow rice to heat throughout. Add seasonings and mix thoroughly.
Add green onions, sesame seed oil and eggs; mix. Serve while hot.
. . . . . . . .
Kimberly Stipe's salad recipe was a winner in the USA Rice Federation's "Rice to the Rescue" contest.
Rice and Shrimp Salad
Makes 6 servings.
1/2 cup canned coconut milk
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chopped basil, plus additional basil leaves for garnish
3 cups cooked U.S. jasmine or medium grain rice
1 pound frozen cooked shrimp, peeled, deveined, thawed
1/2 cup chopped salted peanuts
Whisk milk, vinegar and oil together in a small bowl. Add salt and basil; set aside. Stir rice, shrimp and coconut milk mixture in medium bowl until blended. Spoon into serving bowl; sprinkle with peanuts and basil to garnish.
. . . . . . . .
This recipe from the National Chicken Council is low in fat, carbohydrates and calories, and high in protein.
Pan Chicken with Jasmine Rice
Makes 4 servings
1 cup jasmine rice cooked with no salt according to package directions
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
1 whole chicken, cooked, skinned, boned, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped Anaheim peppers
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup low sodium chicken broth, warm
While rice is still warm, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and toss to mix well.
Heat large nonstick fry pan over medium high temperature; add oil, then onions, peppers, stirring constantly for about 1 minute.
Add chicken and stir fry about 1 minute. While chicken is still warm, sprinkle with remaining 3 tablespoons lemon juice and garlic. Add cooked rice and stir-fry. Add soy sauce, fish sauce and cinnamon, cooking and stirring until hot through, about 1 minute. Pour chicken broth over all and stir fry 1 minute more. Serve with chutney, if desired.
. . . . . . . .
get to know jazzmen rice
What: Jazzmen Rice demonstration and discussion at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum
Time: Saturday, 2-4 p.m.
Where: Riverwalk Marketplace, Julia Street entrance
Cost: $15 admission includes a 28-ounce bag of riceRice Stats:
Louisiana is the third largest rice-producting state, after California and Arkansas. Other rice-growing states are Mississippi, Missouri and Texas.
Louisiana rice farmers had a record yield in 2009, growing 6,300 pounds per acre, according to the USDA. That's up from 470 pounds per acre in 2008, the year of Hurricanes Ike and Gustav. The previous record was 6,140 pounds in 2007.
The state's total rice production in 2009 was estimated at 1.46 million tons, nearly 1.3 million of that long grain rice.
Most rice grown in Louisiana is exported around the world, including to Central America, South America, the Middle East, Turkey and Africa. The state's rice farmers donated rice to Haiti, always a good market, after the earthquake.
After the fall rice harvest in southwestern Louisiana, crawfish are grown in rice fields.
About 20 rice varieties grow commercially in the U.S., all classified as long, medium and short grains. Long grain rice grains are 4 to 5 times as long as they are wide, and remain separate and fluffy when cooked. Medium grains are plump, but not round, and more moist and tender when cooked. Short grains are almost round and tend to cling together when cooked.
All rice has an inedible hull that is removed during milling. The bran layers are intact on brown rice, but removed from white rice as it is polished during milling.RICE RECIPES: Jazzmen Rice Pudding; Trey Yuen's Curry Beef Fried Rice; Rice and Shrimp Salad; Pan Chicken with Jasmine Rice, Inside, C-3