May 10, 2010
By Kat Stromquist, Gambit
For a perfect bowl of gumbo or etouffee, high-quality rice is as essential as a good roux. With the introduction of its Louisiana-grown aromatic rice, the Jazzmen Rice company (www.jazzmenrice.com) believes it has found the perfect pairing for Creole classics.
"I think we can switch a lot of people's tastes in rice consumption," says co-founder George Chin. With its pleasant scent, translucent appearance and slightly clingy texture, Jazzmen Rice is comparable to Thai jasmine rice, a staple of fine dining restaurants and Asian cuisine.
Chin and his partners Andrew Wong and Egbert Ming created an operation to promote the first aromatic rice produced in the United States. Chin's wife suggested they contact the LSU Agricultural Center, where they discovered the institution's rice station had been developing a brand of aromatic rice for more than 12 years.
"Even though they had this rice that was ready to be put on the market ... the rice farmers would not grow it under speculation," Chin says. The group formed an organization to market the rice to consumers, and Jazzmen Rice was born.
Farmed near Crowley, La., this year's first crop of Jazzmen Rice will be distributed to local restaurants and retail outlets. Chin says restaurateurs have responded positively to its introduction, and a Brennan's restaurant in Houston has placed an order.
A Jazzmen Rice recipe contest presented by Gambit has inspired a slew of new ways to prepare the rice. The winner, who will receive a kitchen prize pack, will be announced Thursday, May 13, during a tasting party from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Rock 'N' Bowl (3000 S. Carrollton Ave., 861-1700; www.rockandbowl.com).
At the company, early success, confidence in the product and a sense of social responsibility help keep spirits (and ambitions) high. The team has numbers on its side; a Loyola professor of economics determined the Jazzmen Rice company created 110 jobs in Louisiana last year. The Jazzmen team plans to roll out a brown rice next year and has proposed a five-fold expansion of its operations over the next few years, which could mean as many as 500 new jobs.
"We see this as an opportunity to help the economy," Wong says.