Q&A With Roy Choi: L.A. Son, the Book Tour and Why People Call Him a Fake Gangster
Anne FishbeinRoy Choi
Roy Choi's memoir/cookbook, L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food, was officially released yesterday. The Kogi/A-Frame/Chego chef, who is credited with beginning the food truck revolution and inventing the Korean taco, is now out on a book tour, which he says he's fashioned much like a band tour.
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Roy Choi: I leave for New York on Monday. The tour's gonna be the whole month of November. My life is really surrounded by a lot of people who aren't in food. I have a lot of friends who are in music, so I really tried to channel their whole energy. This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for me. I kinda made it what I wanted it to be, so we tried to make it like a band tour
RC: I'm absolutely dumbfounded. If you know me, you know that all I do is wake up in the morning and work my ass off to try to bring joy to people's lives. I make food as affordable as possible. I take the trucks as far as they can go. I'm called Papi because I take care of my family on the street. Every new dish that we do, all I think about is, "How can we shave a dollar off?" My restaurants are about community and about sharing and about warmth. So I don't know. Is it because I wear a snapback and I got tattoos, that makes me a wannabe gangster? I don't understand why people say that about me. I don't exude any of that energy. It could be just racism, that they want an Asian person to be docile.
SI: I think it probably is people being uncomfortable with someone who is not wholly one thing or another. From my experience, being able to traverse different cultural worlds is a rare and awesome privilege, but it's confusing to people and it makes people uncomfortable when you fit into more than one easy box.
RC: I think you hit it on the head right there. They want me to be one thing or another. But that's what L.A. Son is about. If you look at my life, I wasn't just poor, I was rich and poor. I didn't just grow up lowriding, I grew up lowriding and also in mansions in Orange County. I didn't just grow up in the L.A. public school system, with programs being cut, I grew up there but also in the best school in Orange County. And so my whole life, everything I do, is a reflection of that.
I know all this stuff and I think that's why I can cook for so many people. I've been around so many different elements, I don't try to be just one thing. But ultimately, my style is hip-hop. When I first heard hip-hop, when I was 13, it changed my life. Everything I represent and everything that I am, the way that I dress and the way that I speak and the way that I cook, is all hip-hop.
SI: Do you think you have any other books in you?
RC: I think this is just the first album. I gotta lot of ideas for books. I'd love to do the Kogi book some day. I see the A-Frame book in my mind, as like an architectural, gardening, cookbook type of thing. I'd love to really write a book where I could bring a lot of people in my life to the page -- a lot of musicians, a lot of Asian-American voices.
SI: I found it interesting in this book, you wrote about a lot of personal relationships in your life from childhood, from school and high school. But when you get into the part of your life that's about cooking, the book becomes a lot less personal. We know so much about your early life and your parents, we know every house you lived in as a kid, but at a certain point that changes in the book -- for instance, it's only mentioned in passing that you got married and had a kid.
RC: My wife and child I kept out purposefully. I wrote it in the dedication: what we share is our own. I felt like I was giving everything, and I had to keep one thing for myself. And as far as the parts about cooking, I just shifted gears to be focusing on the moments more. I got more honed in to one-on-one relationships in specific moments. I tried to capture them more in small vignettes or scenes of a play rather than trying to explain entire relationships.
SI: Well, good luck on the book tour. I'm sure you'll have a blast.
RC: Yeah, I will. As you read in the book, I have a hard time accepting and enjoying things. But this time I'm really going to try to just enjoy it, and feel like I deserve it, and feel like I can give back. You have this moment, why not try to live it out to its fullest?
Roy Choi will appear on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at the Los Angeles Central Library for a conversation with Evan Kleiman about L.A. Son. Event details here.
Editor's note: Tien Nguyen, who co-authored L.A. Son with Roy Choi and Natasha Phan, is L.A. Weekly's senior food writer.
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