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Rice as Nice

Jazzmen Rice Shares Insights into American Agriculture, Global Markets, and Louis Armstrong

Crescent City foodies and locavores might recognize the name 'Jazzmen Rice' from the many restaurants around town that namedrop the local white and brown grain varieties on their menus. Indeed, in just seven years this distinctly flavorful rice has gained a reputation for supplying “music for your mouth” to New Orleanians and global consumers alike, successfully wedding sustainability and health consciousness with a bit of Louisiana's cultural heritage. 


Founded in 2010 by two childhood friends, George Chin and Andrew Wong, the Louisiana-born company has quickly become a go-to staple for the top culinary talents in New Orleans, including James Beard Award winners John Besh and Emeril Lagasse. Chin acknowledged that their grain’s appearance in such fine dining dishes has lent Jazzmen a lot of credibility in the Big Easy. “For the average person they might not know how to differentiate one rice from another. But with Besh restaurants and Emeril’s recommending the rice, it educates the consumer.” 


Further supporting the Jazzmen brand: years of agricultural research that provide scientific insight into the health benefits, environmental sustainability, and top notch flavor of the grains. Upon founding the company, Chin and Wong teamed up with the LSU AgCenter, which had over a decade worth of research to their credit specifically targeted toward stimulating rice production in Louisiana. With 500,000 acres of rice agriculture in the state and even more acreage to build on, there are few limits in terms of production for the Jazzmen team. 


Chin and Wong are confident that reforms to United States trade deficits and international tariffs will further expand opportunities for agricultural production and global markets. “I’m not going to get into politics,” laughed Wong, “but the one good thing about Donald Trump is that he’s trying to narrow the trade deficit. The U.S. has been running a trade deficit for nearly 40 years.” This, said Wong, is dangerous for economic and entrepreneurial viability in America.


“The income of any country is the export, and the expenditure of any country is the import,” explained the Jazzmen co-founder. Trade deficits — the economic measure wherein a country’s imports outweigh its exports — endanger a country’s ability to stimulate job growth, economic growth, and general improved quality of life. 


The United States is in a precarious position as its low tariffs for imports come against many countries that apply significant costs to America-grown products. During the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump advocated for a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports — though significantly higher than what America typically charges for foreign goods, it was on par with the tariff percentages China applies to the U.S. Census reports state that the U.S. is engaged in a long-standing tradition of trade deficits with China, with a $347 billion gap reported in 2016. As of June 2017 alone, there is a trade deficit of over $100 billion. Simply raising the tariff costs in retaliation, Wong explained, will only hurt the American consumer, causing the public to pay more for products and leave them with less purchasing power. The solution he advocates is for more bilateral trade instead of big trade agreements, which he believes do not favor the United States. 


The strength for America in its agricultural offerings moving forward, the duo behind Jazzmen Rice believes, is the relative purity of its environment. “The United States is getting to the point where there is not much to export except for the agriculture and seafood,” said Wong. While foreign countries either have the advantage or do not see the economic viability of importing consumer goods and manufactured products, Chin explained, “the United States still has the cleanest air, the most pure land, clean water — and other countries value that a great deal.” 


Jazzmen Rice can currently be found in 48 states across the country, as well as in international markets like China, Vietnam, and the Philippines — with plans for further global expansion well underway. The iconography of the brand, however, is intrinsically linked to New Orleans. The patron saint of the Big Easy, Louis Armstrong, is displayed prominently on their packaging — a lovingly playful wink to New Orleans' most famous jazz man as well as a way to show support the city’s next generation of artists, via financial aid for the Louis Armstrong Education Foundation.


Simply put, there are few other companies that do well and do good. “It’s heart healthy and it’s versatile,” said Dawn Vachon, National Sales and Marketing Director for Jazzmen Rice. “More than that, there’s real sustainability built into our product. There's a strong synergy between this grain and our community.” Jazzmen cares as deeply for the culture of New Orleans as it does the landscape of Louisiana. The grain is gluten-free and is free of any genetic modifications, and together with the LSU AgCenter the Jazzmen team makes large strides to protect the acreage that they work on. 


It's also the go-to grain of choice for Wong and Chin, who each possess lifelong experience with rice dishes. "We come from Asian families, where rice is served with almost every meal," said Chin. "And I can say with absolute honesty that this is the best I've ever tasted." Life in Louisiana — a land of gumbos, rice and beans, etoufees, and more — further proves how essential the grain is to a diet. It's no surprise that Jazzmen, with it's health benefits and sustainable initiatives, has become a favorite of the city's top chefs, but the team does not only highlight culinary professionals. The Jazzmen Rice website features a public call for people to submit their favorite recipes featuring the aromatic grain. Of course, Louis Armstrong — the man who famously signed his letters “red beans and ricely yours” and the veritable mascot for the company —is also represented, with his signature Creole Red Beans dish listed on the site. 


For anyone interested in picking up the grain for themselves, Jazzmen Rice can be purchased at markets such as Rouse's, Piggly Wiggly, and Winn Dixie. Full list of retailers here

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