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Roy Choi of Kogi and his new challenges

Stashed in: Korea, Hollywood, Extraordinary People, Good Eats!, Hero!, Compassion

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I'm a west coast Korean-American of the same rough generation as Roy, and I both sympathize with his ambitions and wonder about them.

What do you wonder?

All that vague stoner peace-love-and-diversity stuff... embodied in a super expensive hotel?!?!? I think it might be an LA thing, to think that you can turn authenticity into upscale set-dressing.

Yes, that is very much an LA thing. It's mysterioso to the rest of us.

I like that one of his goals is to make compassion cool.

A LITTLE OVER A YEAR AGO in West Los Angeles, Roy Choi, celebrity chef, inventor of the Kogi taco, and the “Godfather of the Food-Truck Movement,” sat down with a team of agents from the Creative Artists Agency. The meeting had been called to create the “Roy Choi brand.” To help facilitate the conversation, Choi had plastered the walls of a conference room with large sheets of paper upon which he wrote out every thought in his head in big, scrawling letters. Some examples:

Choi, a deeply tanned 44-year-old who looks permanently, pleasantly stoned, talked about his plans for the future. At times, the conversation, which lasted four hours, veered into the absurd, with Choi asking the agents if they could think of a way that he could reach people on “an mlk or Gandhi or Oprah level,” but for the most part, Choi stayed focused on one goal. He wanted Kogi, the Korean taco brand that has turned him into one of the most well-known chefs in the country, and 3 Worlds Cafe, a health-food restaurant he helped open in the heart of South Central, to kick off a “revolution” in the ways Americans think about poverty, race, and food access. “Food deserts” — communities where healthy food is difficult or impossible to find — “that can’t happen anymore,” Choi told the agents. In the past, Choi has rejected television offers because he thought they would compromise his street cred. On this day, he entertained every hypothetical, including an imagined collaboration with Chipotle and a sponsorship with Target. He even seemed to consider a role in The Great American Food Truck Race, a show that he had earlier described to me as “the fakest, stupidest show on TV.” The reason for his conversion seemed simple: Choi needed money, and lots of it, if he wanted to keep building affordable, high-quality restaurants in inner cities, and TV was a good way to get paid.

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