CIA Alumni Spotlight: Roy Choi

It’s time for another Culinary Institute of America alumni spotlight. Here’s another chef and restaurateur you may have not known attended the CIA. But first, I’d like to apologize for the delay in this article. All this talk of the culinary world has lit a fire under me (no pun intended) to try and start cooking again, even if with pre sent meals. I’ve also decided to first re-do my kitchen in order to feel comfortable. Luckily an old co-worker of mine is now selling kitchen cabinets in Moreno Valley, CA and he’s really hooked up a beautiful kitchen for me. A kitchen worthy of culinary work. Pictures of the finished project will come soon. I just wanted to let you guys know why I haven’t written in a while.

Now, back to the spotlight on Roy Choi. For those of you who are fortunate enough to live in Southern California, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Kogi food truck. Roy Choi is one of the brilliant folks behind that awesome idea.

Roy Choi graduated the Culinary Institute of America in 1998. At the beginning of his career, for 15 years, he worked in classical French cuisines around the US. At that time he wasn’t feeling completely fulfilled, so he decided he wanted to do something involving the food he most loved.

Roy Choi was from Los Angeles and he wanted to share some of the delicacies from Koreatown, to the rest of the city. HeĀ  thought of brining the restaurant to the customers, instead of having to force the customers to have to come to Koreatown,, and he thought the food truck idea was perfect for this.

In order to serve his target customers, he thought to create Korean dishes that would plug right into the very diverse culture of the greater Los Angeles area by combining it with the tried and true taco. A staple of the Los Angeles food scene. Born was the perfect culinary combination.

In 2008 he formed a partnership with Caroline and Mark Manguera, and together they decided to launch Kogi Korean BBQ To Go.

Credited for the mass popularity of Kogi, was Alice Shin. She was a blogger for Eats.com and the food truck became a phenomenon.

All I remember was all of my friends talking about this food truck. They couldn’t stop talking about it. They actually followed the food truck on twitter to know where it was going to be showing up next. I went along for one of those rides. I remember we were at a get together at a friends’ house for a get together and someone mentioned that the food truck will be coming to Rowland Heights! Just down the street from where we were. We hopped in the car and got there early.

As soon as we got in line, cars just started pulling up and that line turned really long really fast. At this point I still didn’t understand what all the fuss was about, until i took that first bite of my first Kogi taco. Everything made sense. The long lines, the long wait, the driving to a food truck. It all came together. I realized this guy had something special. It’s no wonder the Kogi truck because such a huge phenomenon of the Los Angeles food scene.

If any of this sounds like the script to the movie Chef, that because John Favreau actor and director of the film, hired Roy Choi as the culinary technical advisor. Not many people I know actually know that either but who else would you hire to tell such a story?

Since then Roy Choi has blown up big time with many other culinary ventures and projects. One of the many things I’m looking forward to checking out is his chain of fast food restaurants called Locol, which he started with Chef Daniel Patterson who owns the San Francisco restaurant, Coi. The first Locol restaurant opened this past January in the Watts neighborhood of the city of Los Angeles. My mouth is just watering thinking about it.

Take a look at this interview he did with the Culinary Institute of America:

If you enjoy Kogi tacos as much as I do, let me know here.