Famed Los Angeles-based chef Roy Choi was a recent guest on Talib Kweli’s burgeoning podcast “People’s Party.” They discussed a range of topics which included Choi’s upbringing, hip-hop’s contribution to his culinary journey, as well as the importance of community. Likening the overly-corporatized world of food to that of music industry major labels, it took being fired from celebrity hot-spot Rock Sugar to reignite Choi’s flame for cooking. He recalled his sudden “writer’s block” while preparing for the restaurant’s opening:
“I became a deer in headlights [everything], almost like I had amnesia. I woke up and couldn’t remember almost everything I was very proficient at. Like if you were to wake up and not know how to rhyme.”
Choi’s dismissal was a blessing in disguise, resulting in a slew of successful independent ventures like Chego!, A-Frame, Commissary, POT, LocoL and well-known catalyst Kogi BBQ. That’s Kogi with a “hard G,” by the way. Shedding the corporate chains allowed Choi to engage his dormant creative spirit. It also helped to inspire an evolution in the food world, with many others following suit into the great food truck unknown.
What separated this new school of culinary adventure seekers was the ability to reconnect with the everyday person. An industry once divided between fine dining and mom and pop spots was now experiencing a renaissance as fantastic fusions entered the fray. This freshly found zeal flooded the streets of Los Angeles, overtaking a land once occupied solely by Latino taqueros. With respect to LA’s OG food truckers, Choi admits his initial unease:
“I was always torn between it because for us, there was a whole life and generation before this modern food truck movement. And that’s the culture of the Latino taqueros, especially in Los Angeles. And I think it’s really important to respect your elders and the generation before you and really pay homage to the work that they did for the streets.”
For Choi, the first bite is key. Without all of the various attractions of a traditional restaurant, a food truck’s first bite determines its success. Going beyond mere business exploitation, there has to exist a real love for the food and respect for the street culture connected to it. “If you don’t love the streets, I don’t see how your street food will evolve or be a success,” Choi says.
Believing money to be merely one ingredient in the recipe of life, it’s the connection to community and communion that has fueled Choi’s creative spirit. These are the pillars he’s built each of his ventures upon. Moving ever-forward while never forgetting the root of his inspiration, Choi further accentuates:
“Those are the cornerstones of Kogi; hanging out in the parking lot, watching the sun go down, watching the street lamps go up, sharing with each other, talking to each other, going out of your way to be considerate and kind to each other, and still represent the streets.”
Check out Choi’s interview with Talib Kweli on People’s Party to hear more in depth about his growth, current beliefs, and future goals.