At a time when trained chefs and owners of food trucks seemed to be
come out of two different spheres of the food world, Roy Choi rented a
truck of his own and hit the streets of Los Angeles with his unique
Mexican tacos stuffed with Korean BBQ-style meat. With a pedigree that
included The Culinary Institute of America, Le Bernardin, and the
Beverly Hills Hilton, Chef Choi might not have seemed the most likely
candidate to go roadside, hawking tacos—but that is exactly what he did.
For the first 15 years of his career, he worked executing classical
French technique in professional kitchens across the country. But never
feeling like he was fulfilled or meeting his full potential, he took the
opportunity to regroup and really consider what food he loved the most.
Fortuitously, Chef Choi was approached by his friend Mark Manguera
with the idea of running a taco truck. And so in 2008, in partnership
with Mark and Caroline Manguera, he launched Kogi Korean BBQ-To-Go.
Kogi’s popularity grew after Eats.com blogger Alice Shin—now in charge
of PR for Kogi—took notice. The business later became a phenomenon. Newsweek
called it “the first viral eatery,” after it began using Twitter to let
its fans know where the Kogi truck would be. Building on the success of
his mobile culinary business, in 2010, Chef Choi opened Chego!, his
first sit-down restaurant, in West L.A. Mar Vista followed in November
2010 and Sunny Spot in Venice in 2011.
Chef Choi spent the next two years writing his first cookbook/memoir, L.A. Son-My Life, My City, My Food, with co-authors Tien Nguyen and Natasha Phan. Published
by Ecco Book, under the Anthony Bourdain ’78 publishing line, the book
is a celebration of Chef Choi’s love of his hometown, his development as
a chef, and, with the creation of the Korean taco, his reinvention of
street food for the masses.
Chef Choi volunteers at A Place Called Home, a safe haven in South
Central Los Angeles where underserved youth are empowered to take
ownership of the quality and direction of their lives. “My goal is to
help them understand they are beautiful human beings and they are
responsible for making the community better,” he says. In 2013, in
partnership with the neighborhood-based Coalition for Responsible
Community Development, Dole Packaged Food, and nearby Jefferson High
School, Chef Choi launched a small smoothie shop and café called 3
World’s Café. The business creates an entrepreneurial training hub for
young people in the neighborhood and provides a much-needed source of
good, healthy food.
Hollywood came calling when actor/director John Favreau hired Chef
Choi as the culinary technical advisor during the filming of the movie Chef.
The collaboration didn’t end with the film’s credits; Favreau and Choi
are in the development stage of creating a Los Angeles-based restaurant.
Chef Choi was a guest on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown on the CNN network. In the segment, viewer were introduced to Street Food, which is to appear on CNN’s digital platform. Street Food
is a series of five-minute clips showing Chef Choi interviewing
musicians, artists, and community leaders while highlighting LA’s inner
In 2014, Chef Choi partnered with the Sydell Group to handle the
entire food and beverage program at The Line Hotel in L.A.’s Koreatown.
The dining concepts include Commissary—a greenhouse restaurant within
the hotel that focuses on fruits and vegetables; Pot, named after
family-style hot pot; Pot Café serving international baked goods; and
Pot Lobby Bar.
In August 2014, at René Redzepi’s fourth MAD symposium, Chef Choi and
Chef Daniel Patterson, owner of Coi in San Francisco, announced plans
to open a new chain of fast-food restaurants called Loco’l. The focus
will be sustainability as well as healthful, whole foods at an
affordable price. Patterson and Choi plan to work with a team of chefs
including Chad Robertson ’93, of the famed San Francisco bakery Tartine,
who is creating a whole-grain, long-fermented bun for Loco’l’s burger,
the cornerstone of the project. “We want to go toe-to-toe with fast food
chains and offer the community a choice,” Choi says. “The vision is to
create a fast-food concept with the heart of a chef. We’re approaching
it like we would any other restaurant. So that means a focus on design,
function, systems, fee and costs, organization, sourcing, product,
farmers, ingredients, recipes, and training.” The first branch of Loco’l
is slated to open in San Francisco in spring 2015. A second location
will follow in Los Angeles and a third in Detroit.
Follow in Roy's Footsteps. Earn Your Culinary Degree at the CIA.
Roy Choi trains Actor/Director Jon Favreau for his role in CHEF in this behind the scenes video.
Watch our interview with Roy Choi at The CIA's campus in Hyde Park, NY.