At the recent MAD3 symposium—a gathering of some of the world’s most influential food professionals, held each year in Copenhagen—Roy Choi got on stage and delivered a bold message to his comrades: “The topic of [this year’s festival] was Guts, so I tailored it towards the guts to tell the culinary world that we’re sucking our own dicks,” he recalls.
It’s this sort of fearlessness that has propelled Choi from a stoner burnout (by his own admission) who was stuck on a dangerous dead-or-in-jail path, to leader of a new-school culinary movement that draws its inspiration from the streets rather than the ivory towers of cookery (though he’s still very much a stoner). His fleet of Kogi BBQ trucks is largely credited with popularizing the Korean taco trend that’s swept the nation, he won Food & Wine Best New Chef honors in 2010, and—as of today—he’s the author of a red-hot cookbook, L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food.
Published by the HarperCollins imprint helmed by Anthony Bourdain, the tome is equal parts cookbook and autobiography, delving into the gritty back alleys of L.A. where Choi found both his demons and his salvation. Since Choi has always been interested in reaching past the “foodie audience” and connecting with people from all walks of life, you can bet that it’s as raw and unfettered as that MAD talk back in August.
Recently, we caught up with Choi on his home turf for some tacos at one of his favorite Koreatown spots, El Taurino. Watch the video above to see him break down the origins of Kogi BBQ and explain his dream of bringing better food to the streets of L.A.