white woman is facing accusations of racism and cultural appropriation after opening a new American Chinese restaurant in New York City’s Greenwich Village and promising a different, “clean” version of the cuisine.
On Monday, nutritionist Arielle Haspel opened Lucky Lee’s — the restaurant is named after her husband who is also white. To promote the opening, she made a number of posts on social media which caught the attention of foodies.
“We heard you’re obsessed with lo mein but rarely eat it. You said it makes you feel bloated and icky the next day? Well, wait until you slurp up our HIGH lo mein. Not too oily. Or salty,” read one post.
Haspel later spoke with Eater, telling the website that her restaurant’s menu included modified, “clean” Chinese-American recipes without gluten, wheat, refined sugar, and GMO that “healthify” dishes like lo mein, fried rice, and kung pao chicken for “people who love to eat Chinese food and love the benefit that it will actually make them feel good.”
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During OPENING WEEK, we will be offering a special selection of Lucky Lee’s favorites, including this Baked Orange Cauliflower (gluten-free). Additional menu items will be added soon. Tomorrow we open the doors at 12pm for lunch only – who will be the lucky first customer?! We can’t wait to see you at 67 University Place between 10th/11th Street for good vibes and tons of yumminess. See you tomorrow! #newrestaurant #luckyleesnyc
When asked if she was not contributing toward racist Chinese stereotypes, Haspel replied: “I love love love American Chinese food. I made some tweaks so I would be able to eat it and my friends and other people would be able to eat it. I am by all means never ever looking to put down a culture at all. I am very inclusive, and we’re here to celebrate the culture.”
As a way of “celebrating” that culture, Haspel added that her restaurant includes lots of Chinese elements like “lucky bamboo” and jade, though that doesn’t seem to be quite enough to placate her critics who have accused her of essentially calling all other Chinese food dirty and unhealthy.
After the initial wave of backlash, Haspel deleted some posts on Instagram and issued a statement in an attempt to clarify matters:
A number of comments have stated that by saying our Chinese food is made with ‘clean’ cooking techniques and it makes you feel great that we are commenting negatively on all Chinese food. When we talk about our food, we are not talking about other restaurants, we are only talking about Lucky Lee’s. Chinese cuisine is incredibly diverse and comes in many different flavors (usually delicious in our opinion) and health benefits. Every restaurant has the right to tout the positives of its food. We plan to continue communicating that our food is made with high quality ingredients and techniques that are intended to make you feel great.
Chef/owner, Arielle’s husband’s name is Lee and his life-long love of Chinese food was inspiration for the restaurant. The name Lucky Lee’s reflects the story of how the recipes were conceived.
We also received negative comments related to being owners of a Chinese restaurant but not being Chinese. Owners Arielle and Lee are both Jewish-American New Yorkers, born and raised. Similar to many other Jewish New Yorkers’ diets, bagels, pastrami sandwiches and yes, American Chinese food, were big and very happy parts of their childhoods. New York is the ultimate melting pot and Lucky Lee’s is another example of two cultures coming together. To us, this is a good thing.
We love American Chinese food and at Lucky Lee’s it is our intention to celebrate it everyday and serve great food.
In comments underneath the post, a typically unenlightening flame war rages on. Meanwhile, Lucky Lee’s Yelp page has been shut down for reviews to save its 4.5-star rating from the angry internet mob.
People have also taken to Haspel’s food blog where she has previously written things like:
I LOVE fried rice from my local Chinese restaurant, but I can rarely order it because it makes me so thirsty and my fingers swell the next day. Most restaurants add MSG, globs of processed butter and sodium-rich soy sauce.
You know the morning after you go to your favorite chinese restaurant or sushi joint and you feel bloated, your eyes are puffy and your rings hardly fit on your fingers?