Los Angeles chef Roy Choi, known to most as the man who set in motion the food truck movement with his Kogi BBQ truck. It’s the way he’s using food to think and feel in new ways about culture, high and low. You see, it’s not just about food…he is in the Creative Spotlight because he is a renaissance man who is making it clear that 2013 is the year he makes his mark. At René Redzepi’s MAD Symposium a couple weeks ago, his presentation riffed on this year’s theme of guts. Choi asked a room filled with some of the world’s foremost chefs to acknowledge the fact that they’re pretty much only feeding privileged communities. It was a breathe of fresh air, and a new take on the culinary world we see today. In addition he is releasing a new book that is sure to give fans a peek into the mind of Roy Choi. Read below for the full Q&A…
It took over 20 years for Food & Wine magazine to award you as best chef. Why do you think there such a large gap in food truck culinary and award winning food? Do you believe there is an ill preconceived notion about truck food?
Roy: It took this long because no chefs were doing food trucks up until this time. It wasn’t about ill preconceived notions, it’s just that not many food journalists were eating off food trucks so they weren’t a part of their vernacular. Kogi changed that. It shifted paradigms. So that’s how it evolved into an award. The streets were rewarded for being exactly who they were, it just took time to notice.
Could you go into a bit of detail on how the love of your community translates into the food you create?
Roy: Just look at my face and the face of those eating when the food comes to their hood. That should tell you everything: Joy.
In addition to just making food, you seem to have a gift to translating art into your food. Whether it be a music collaboration, or just paying special attention to plating or aesthetics. How important is this step to communicate this into your creations?
Roy: They are everything. It’s all about the layers and layers and layers and then fun.
Speaking of music, can this apply to any artist? From Rekstizzy to TOKiMONSTA, are there any particular challenges you face when collaborating?
Roy: No challenges, just vibing. From Toki to Rek to Dilated to Alchemist to Action Bronson to Dumbfoundead to the superhumanoids to Decipher to Bambu to Snoop to Jon Favreau to Mike D for me it is about those conversations without words. Ya know what I mean?
Yeah, that makes sense. So, I don’t live on the West Coast. How is this food revolution going to reach other locales? Any plans yet?
Roy: It already has…we made food more accessible and affordable. We made food young and connected it on Twitter. Look around. As far as me getting out of the LA area? Well, I’m trying…I’d really love to bring our flavors worldwide. It’s just it takes a moment. Getting there, tho.
You said there was a point in your life where you couldn’t be in L.A. I’m guessing it was because you were getting into too much trouble? Were you a bit hesitant to start a growing business in an area that you had to eventually leave? Was it hard to come back?
Roy: Nah. I left because I had to. I was in a place of destruction. Then I left and found a place of recreation. Now I’m back and I’m home.
Hit us with your favorite Asian films or Anime!
Roy: Enter the Dragon, Crying Freeman, Pokemon, Giant Robot, Godzilla and Mothra, etc.
You have a new book coming out in the fall entitled, “L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food ”. I see its over 350 pages. That’s massive. What brought this project about and what can people expect from picking it up?
Roy: It was just time to write a book. I feel my life is changing by the second and it just seemed right to try and document what got me here, because where I’m going is gonna be trippy. I wanted to preserve my voice and perspective at this moment. The book is huge. It’s three books in one. A life story, a cookbook, and a photography book.
Chāshū is a traditional barbeque pork dish from China known as Char siu, but like most great things Chinese, the Japanese culture has adapted char siu and in many ways, improved on it, by including it as an ingredient in rāmen. What other dishes are able to cross cultural boundaries like that? Any secret dishes you have hybrid yourself?
Roy: The Kogi taco seems to be a pretty important migration of cultures in this new day of immigration and the people it represents.
In addition to the book, the project in South Central, and your new hotel/eating establishments, are you trying to do more in 2014, or just maintain and grow the current plans? Can you fill us in?
Roy: I have no plans. As things happen I connect. Sometimes they just appear, like a bus, and I get on. I live in the moment.
Lastly, you’re the very definition of a hustler. Any advice you could give to someone struggling to gain their footing?
Roy: Kindness and detail. Keep a sense of humor but also be serious. Don’t confuse the two. You can have the time of your life but when it comes to the grind, don’t be sloppy. Be thorough.
Want to stay up to date on all of Mr. Choi’s food adventures? Follow his cookie crumb trail below:
Pre-Order his book ‘L.A. Son’ – http://www.amazon.com/L-A-Son-Life-City-Food/dp/0062202634/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1377902092&sr=8-1&keywords=la+son+roy+choi