World famous chef Roy Choi would make his name combining Korean and LA fusion food, taking his creations to the streets with his iconic truck Kogi. The veteran entrepreneur might have been considered something of an overnight success when he broke out with this concept in the mid 2000s, but the journey to reach this point of stardom was a long time in the making.
Choi was born in 1970 with North Korean mother Jai Nam Choi and South Korean father Soo Myung Choi. The family would decide to immigrate to the United States in 1972 when Choi was at a tender age, raising their son in Southern California. His parents would sew the seed for his future career, establishing a Korean restaurant titled Silver Garden in Anaheim, California.
Roy Choi’s teenage years would be a struggle however, finding himself in trouble with his school grades and failing to find a path forward with his drug use. This is where he would be sent to Southern California Military Academy at just 15, creating a sense of structure and discipline that would be the bedrock for his success in the culinary world.
The Beverly Hilton is where the chef started to establish some connections. He worked for Hilton Hotels in 2001 where he linked up with his future business partner Mark Manguera. Their shared passion for combining Korean and Mexican flavors would spawn Kogi, a food truck business that was inspired by the subculture that developed out of the LA region of Venice.
Roy Choi would go on to make his name through a series of dishes that would make the brand known across Los Angeles and the world. This would feature Korean meatballs on a stick that made for easy eating. Then there are the more exquisite dishes like the Kogi Vinaigrette, the Lemongrass Puree, Salsa Verde and Kimchi Quesadilla.
Roy Choi would go on to link up with famous chefs David Chang and Wolfgang Puck, fusing unique elements for fresh dishes that really stood out from the crowd. While many of his peers would perfect one category of cuisine, Choi was focused on infusing different flavors for dishes that were just as good on the street as they were in restaurants.
That approach from Roy Choi would capture the attention of actor and filmmaker Jon Favreau. The 2014 film Chef would be based on his life’s events, breaking out of the conventional hospitality career to create a startup through his own truck business. Choi and Favreau would continue that relationship with the pair going on to star in the Netflix series The Chef Show.
The program would allow Favreau to push his own culinary boundaries under the guidance of Choi. It would also allow many high-end celebrities to get in on the food game. Top guests would include Puk and Chang alongside Seth Rogen, Bill Burr, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Rodriguez, Aaron Franklin, Kevin Feige and Gwyneth Paltrow.
With Roy Choi establishing himself as one of the great LA entrepreneurs of the food industry, he would return to his roots by investing in a number of restaurants across the city. Chego! would showcase his love affair with rice bowls, Pot would be centered in the heart of Koreatown, A-Frame would be home to a range of unique Hawaiian dishes while Sunny Spot allowed the chef to experiment with Caribbean food.
The late and great Anthony Bourdain argued that Roy Choi was the original mastermind behind the food-truck concept, taking it from a cheap and basic genre of the culinary industry to a prized possession that could cater to anyone at anytime.