From Addict to Entrepreneur: Roy Choi's flavorful journey
Roy Choi was born in South Korea in 1970 but raised in Los Angeles. He tells his tale of being an immigrant misfit (embarrassed by the Korean cuisine in his lunch box) who finds a place in the L.A. biker culture, makes friends with drugs and gambling, and eventually focuses his addictive personality on creatively fusing flavors from all influences in his life and feeding people Kogi BBQ via his four restaurants and small fleet of food trucks. The verbally gifted Choi captures the joy, determination, and diversity that immigrants bring to their new home, as well as the inevitable struggles. His irrepressible personality and his wide range of experiences—from poor immigrant (when his parents owned a restaurant) to nouveau riche suburbanite (when they got into the import jewelry business), from addict to entrepreneur—remind us of the beauty and uniqueness of each person's story.
Choi is also an outspoken advocate for addressing hunger. At the MAD Symposium chefs' gathering in 2013, Choi talked about how food trucks, while a wonderful asset, are the result of the poverty, crime, and hunger issues that plague his city. In a talk called "A Gateway to Hunger: The Promise of Street Food," he spoke against the "corrosive, chemical waste" we feed children in the ghettoes of South LA, where 44 percent of children live in poverty, 17 percent in extreme poverty. He urged the chefs there to use their platform and position to address social issues. "What if every high-caliber chef, all of us in here, told our investors as we were building restaurants, that we leveraged it, for every restaurant we would build, every fancy restaurant that we build, it would be a requirement to build a restaurant in the hood too?"