Roy Choi Dishes On His New Memoir, Jamie Oliver, And More
Roy Choi, the tattooed bad boy of the L.A. food scene and progenitor of the Korean-Mexican Kogi taco, bares all in his memoir, out today. L.A. Son: My Life. My City. My Food takes readers on a journey through the celebrated chef's humble beginnings and off-the-cuff nature. Although the book contains recipes with each chapter, don't expect to see any for his tacos or popular beer-can chicken from his other restaurant, A-Frame.
"This is not the Kogi cookbook," Choi tells LAist. "The recipes are an afterglow of the chapters. What I wanted the book to feel like was one long-play album."
The memoir was co-written by Tien Nguyen and Natasha Phan, and each chapter speaks in Choi's voice at the time the events took place. The food truck king wants readers to finish a chapter, cook the recipe associated with it, and feel what he was feeling in that moment. His troubled adulthood before becoming a chef was riddled with addiction from gambling to alcohol; he describes himself as a "misfit" at that time. "[The book's about] growing up with Asian parents, being an immigrant, moving a lot, having a compulsive personality, not excelling in school later on to not living up to expectations," he says. "[It's] being around a lot of people that weren’t Korean and didn’t understand the food I was eating."
His life changed when he had a transcendental moment when he was at the lowest point of his life; he saw an episode of Emeril Lagasse's Essence of Emeril that caused him to turn around his life and realize his destiny. He later attended the Culinary Institute of America, became the chef de cuisine at the Beverly Hilton, before heading RockSugar. These events all led to his final moments in starting the famed Kogi Truck, which later spawned A-Frame and Chego.
"Before I started cooking, I was always the homie's homie," Choi says. "I wasn’t really the number one, the leader. I was always the homie that would do everything for you and with you. Somehow my life became the leader of a lot of people in my team."
He felt now was the ripe time to write this memoir, as he was "shedding his skin" and preserving his voice as an homage to the trek he took to get to where he is now. In fact, his frame of mind has changed over time. At September's MAD Symposium in Denmark—a TED Talks-like meeting of the chef minds around the world—Choi rocked the culinary community when he gave an inspirational speech about how chefs were only feeding the privileged communities. The video went viral.
"I don’t just hang out with chefs or professionals on an upward social ladder," he says. "What I realized was that sometimes I get caught up in my chef world and I look around and realize a lot of people in my life were not able to afford a lot of the food cooked out there."
His efforts have reached out to even opening 3 Worlds Cafe, a smoothie and coffee shop out in South Central, in July. Although he's heavily involved with the cafe and the local community, he is hesitant to say that he knows for sure his small coffee shop has changed the world. After all, it's just the beginning of his movement.
Choi linked up with fellow chef Jamie Oliver, a like-minded person heavily involved in helping the underprivileged. "Jamie is an amazing dude," Choi says. "He came out and met me and we talked, I cried, I told him everything I was feeling. He told me about what he’s going through and what he’s done building his organization, all of his philosophies and efforts."
They joined forces in Oliver's Dream School documentary show on the Sundance Channel. Choi taught students about cooking with fresh vegetables and gave them inspirational talks on the episode that aired on Oct. 28. He felt like a coach instead of just a teacher, giving them advice and guiding them on their journey.
As for now, Choi is walking down his new path—a busy man on tour, focused on spreading the message about his book and getting ready for the opening of his new restaurant, Pot, in Koreatown's upcoming boutique hotel, The Line. It's refreshing to hear a success story from someone who once was lost, and hopefully his message of change spreads like wildfire.