Roy Choi

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Roy Choi
Roy Choi from Koji BBQ.jpg
Roy Choi from Kogi BBQ
Aspen Food & Wine Fest 2010
BornRoy S Choi
(1970-02-24) February 24, 1970 (age 44)
Seoul, South Korea
EducationCulinary Institute of America
Southern California Military Academy
Culinary career
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Roy Choi
Roy Choi from Koji BBQ.jpg
Roy Choi from Kogi BBQ
Aspen Food & Wine Fest 2010
BornRoy S Choi
(1970-02-24) February 24, 1970 (age 44)
Seoul, South Korea
EducationCulinary Institute of America
Southern California Military Academy
Culinary career

Roy Choi (born February 24, 1970),[1] is a Korean American chef who gained prominence as the creator of the gourmet Korean taco truck, Kogi.[2][3][4][5] He is well known as a chef who is celebrated for "food that isn't fancy" and is known as one of the founders of the food truck movement.[6]

Early life[edit]

Choi was born in Seoul, South Korea to South Korean father Soo Myung Choi and North Korean mother Youn-Jin Choi.[7] Choi's parents met in the US but after marrying moved back to Korea. The family ended up emigrating from South Korea permanently in 1972.[8]

Choi was raised in Los Angeles and southern California. As Choi grew up, his parents had many businesses: a liquor store, dry-cleaning shop, a Korean restaurant, and after selling jewelry door to door, finally a very successful jewelry company.[9] His parents owned a Korean restaurant in Anaheim, California called Silver Garden[10] for three years when he was young. Choi's mother made kim chee that was so popular within their community that they packaged it and sold it locally.[6] The family moved "12 times among southern California neighborhoods that ranged from gritty to posh as their fortunes changed."[3] His family once lived near Olympic Boulevard and Vermont Avenue, as well as in South Central, the Crenshaw District and West Hollywood.[11]

Choi attended a gifted-students program, but changed schools in his early teens when his parents achieved prosperity in the jewelry business and moved their family into a predominantly white neighborhood in Orange County called Villa Park,[6][12] Choi began getting into trouble. "At age 13, he rebelled, running away from home several times. He began getting C's in school, started dabbling in drugs and hung out with a crowd of burgeoning criminals, he says."[3]

At age 15, Choi's parents sent him to Southern California Military Academy in Signal Hill, California. This was a good experience, he said, because "all of the kids at military school are screw-ups. It connected me to a lot of kindred spirits."[3]

After high school, Choi went to Korea and taught English there. He then attended California State University, Fullerton, graduating with a bachelor's degree in philosophy. Choi attended Western State University law school for a semester. "But he viewed himself as a failure, outside the circle of Korean-Americans attending top schools, and he hated law school. He soon dropped out."[3]

At 24, confused about his life, and in a dark period around 1994 or 1995, Choi said he became obsessed with Emeril Lagasse's "Essence of Emeril" show. Choi said that it was like Emeril Lagasse started talking directly to him. "He came out of the TV," Choi recalls, "and said, 'Smell this. Touch this. Taste this. Do something.'"[13] Choi said: "Emeril saved my life," and inspired him to enroll in a local culinary school night class.[3]

In 1996, Choi transferred to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.[14] Choi said that the thing that he appreciated the most, that was really important to him, was the structure of the program there, the intensive block programs, where there was no "wiggle room."[6] He worked as an intern during this period at Le Bernardin in New York City.[3]

His favorite childhood memory is making dumplings at the age of eight at his family's own restaurant.[14]


Choi gained experience as a journeyman hotel chef since the mid-1990s.[2]

In 2001, Choi started working for Hilton Hotels. After being promoted within the company, in 2007, Choi became chef de cuisine at the Beverly Hilton, the chain's flagship. It was there that Choi met his future partner, Mark Manguera, then a hotel food-and-beverage director. They brainstormed the idea of a "Korean taco."[3]

Choi also worked at the following restaurants: Embassy Suites in Lake Tahoe, California and the Rock Sugar Pan Asian Kitchen in Los Angeles.[2][14]

After this classical training and years of background in four and five star cooking, Choi said that the shift to the food trucks, initially based on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice[15] was great. "It’s truly changed my life. As a person and as a chef, it’s changed my life. It’s stripped away everything that I thought I should be preoccupied with, you know going through kitchens and running kitchens. It stripped all that away and made me realize that cooking can be fun, and we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously. We can really just cook fun food—and great food—for people and create an interactive community. It’s why we do it. That’s what keeps us going."[2]

Choi's company, Kogi, which is run with partners Mark Manguera and his wife, Caroline Shin-Manguera, "started in late 2008 as one mobile food truck that parked outside nightclubs on Sunset Boulevard late at night, selling Mexican tacos stuffed with Korean-style meat. Within three months, it began drawing crowds of hundreds and soon added more trucks. The company used Twitter to alert customers to trucks' locations."[3]

His cooking style fuses Mexican and Korean flavors and dishes.[16] On what Choi sees as a food mission: "What I would love to do in the big picture is change the paradigm of how people eat, how younger generations, and people that aren’t within our foodie world, view food. Like skaters or the kids that I grew up with that don’t even know what vegetables grow in what season, that live off fast food for 70 to 80 percent of their lives. But then they eat Kogi and it speaks to them on that same level that their skateboard speaks to them, because it’s got that vibe and that credibility."[2]

He was named one of the top ten "Best New Chefs" of 2010 by Food and Wine magazine, and is the first food truck operator to win that distinction.[14] He currently runs several Los Angeles-area restaurants: Chego! which features rice bowls,[17] Sunny Spot which is Caribbean-inspired, A-Frame which conveys the Hawaiian idea of aloha and is built in a former IHOP,[6] and Pot[18] at the Line Hotel in Koreatown.[14]

In June 2013, Choi along with fellow chefs, Wolfgang Puck and David Chang convened at the Hotel Bel-Air to fuse different styles such as ggaejjang style and kochujang onto the Hotel Bel-Air menu.[19]

In November 2013, Choi released his autobiography that is part memoir part cookbook[6] called L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food.[20][21]

Choi said he didn't start out to write a book, but that he kept getting asked the same questions: How did you come up with this food? Tell me everything about this food? Where did you come up with this flavor?[22] While Choi doesn't see the book as social commentary, he felt it was important to show the "real deal" of what the duality felt like to him to be an immigrant kid from the 1970s living in this weird suspended state, where you lived double lives, where the foods he grew up on were hidden and labeled stinky and disgusting.[22] Also important was talking about the culture of Los Angeles - three to four decades of Los Angeles: from the 1970s to the present day.[22]

In August 2013, Choi gave a talk at René Redzepi's MAD Symposium in Copenhagen, Denmark called "A Gateway to Feed Hunger: The Promise of Street Food." Choi said that "one of his principal motivations for the project [KogiBBQ] was to bring wholesome, accessible food to areas with more liquor shops than grocery stores," linking economics, food, poverty, and ethnic urban living.[23] In his talk, Choi "encouraged -- or, more accurately, pleaded with -- his fellow chefs to think of ways that they could feed more than just the privileged."[24]

The MAD talk was controversial: Choi challenged fellow chefs to not just "cook for rich people," but also challenged fast food, access to healthy delicious food. Choi described a hunger crisis in Los Angeles where many children are living in extreme poverty and don't have access to healthy food, while liquor stores and junk food proliferates, where "we feed our children corrosive chemical waste."[23]

In 2014, the Jon Favreau movie, Chef, was released: it is a film about a chef who finds himself through work on a food truck, is loosely inspired by Choi and the food truck movement. Choi appears in the end credits of the film and worked as a technical advisor to Favreau on the film. "I went with him in his car to every one of his restaurants – like a ride-along if you're doing a cop movie," said Favreau. Additionally, Choi sent Favreau to a French culinary school and then had him train in several of Choi's kitchens.[25] Choi "consulted on every kitchen scene, every food porn-worthy shot — and turned what can sometimes look like fakery into an authentic representation of the inside of a restaurant kitchen."[26]

Personal life[edit]

Choi goes by nicknames Papi and El Guapo.[15]

Choi teaches students how to cook when he volunteers at A Place Called Home in South Central Los Angeles.[27]

Choi is a supporter of a South Central community coffee and smoothie shop called 3 Worlds Cafe, a collaboration among Choi, the neighborhood-based Coalition for Responsible Community Development, fruit conglomerate Dole Packaged Foods and nearby Jefferson High School.[28] 3 Worlds Cafe's focus is "to empower the local high school students by teaching them culinary and perhaps business skills and also bringing a needed source of good, healthy food to an area where it has not historically been easily accessible."[28]

He also maintains a blog posting recipes and rants.[16]

During his difficult teen years and later as a young adult, Choi said that he had many addictions. He was addicted to crack for a short time and was addicted to pot and to gambling, which lasted for three years in his early 20s. Choi said he will never get rid of his addictions; his current addiction is feeding people.[6]

Choi has a daughter, Kaelyn.[3]

Works or publications[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Wang, Andy (28 February 2012). "Broken Social Scene". New York Post. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Bruno, Antoinette (1 March 2010). "Rising Stars: Community Award Winner Chef Roy Choi". StarChefs. Retrieved 19 June 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j McLaughlin, Katy (15 January 2010). "The King of the Streets Moves Indoors". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 19 June 2013. 
  4. ^ "The 2011 Time 100 Poll: Time 100 Candidates: Roy Choi". Time. 04 April 2011-04. Retrieved 19 June 2013.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ Dana Goodyear (10 May 2012). "Vegetable State of Mind: Roy Choi". The New Yorker. Retrieved 19 June 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Gross, Terry (7 November 2013). "Roy Choi's Tacos Channel LA And The Immigrant Experience". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  7. ^ "Roy S Choi, "United States Public Records"". FamilySearch. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  8. ^ "Choi, Roy, 1970-". Library of Congress Authorities. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  9. ^ Chaudhry, Nidhi (22 November 2013). "Roy Choi Author of L.A. Son Interview". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  10. ^ "L.A. Son". Kirkus Reviews. 20 October 2013. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  11. ^ Knoll, Corina (12 April 2014). "Learning in reverse brought Kogi chef Roy Choi to the top". LA Times. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  12. ^ Tatusian, Tenny (21 November 2013). "Roy Choi: He's the face of L.A. at the moment". LA Times. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  13. ^ Stein, Joel (29 March 2010). "Gourmet On the Go: Good Food Goes Trucking". Time. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  14. ^ a b c d e "2010 Best New Chef Award Profile: Roy Choi". Food and Wine. Retrieved 19 June 2013. 
  15. ^ a b "Roy Choi - Kogi BBQ". KCET. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  16. ^ a b Sifton, Sam (12 July 2012). "Roy Choi's Food-Truck Barbecue Blends Mexico and Korea". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 June 2013. 
  17. ^ Hallock, Betty (3 May 2013). "Roy Choi on Chego's move to Chinatown: 'The space has a kind of spiritual glow to it'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 19 June 2013. 
  18. ^ Hallock, Betty (28 March 2014). "Roy Choi's Pot is open: Hot pots, uni dynamite and Bell Biv DeVoe". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 7 May 2014. 
  19. ^ Harris, Jenn (19 June 2013). "Wolfgang Puck, Roy Choi and David Chang cook a meal to 'shock' diners". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 20 June 2013. 
  20. ^ "Roy Choi Releasing L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food in November". Grub Street - LA Times. 4 April 2013. Retrieved 20 June 2013. 
  21. ^ Coover, Doe (4 November 2013). "L.A. Son" (Starred review). Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  22. ^ a b c Choi, Roy (Speaker) (4 December 2013). Chefs @ Google: Roy Choi (Google Talk). Los Angeles, CA: Google. 
  23. ^ a b Choi, Roy (26 August 2013). "A Gateway to Feed Hunger: The Promise of Street Food". MAD (symposium). Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  24. ^ Rodell, Besha (24 September 2013). "Can Chefs Change the World? Roy Choi on Social Responsibility". LA Weekly. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  25. ^ Epstein, Andrew (9 May 2014). "Jon Favreau on How Roy Choi Shaped Chef". Eater. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  26. ^ Galarza, Daniela (8 May 2014). "On The Scene at Jon Favreau's Chef Premiere Last Night". Eater. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  27. ^ Barnett, Bob (29 May 2013). "What Chef Roy Choi Is Teaching South Central L.A. Students". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 19 June 2013. 
  28. ^ a b Simmons, Andrew (25 June 2013). "Roy Choi's 3 Worlds Cafe Coming to South Central + An Opening Party". LA Weekly. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 

External links[edit]