An extensive project exploring the history of L.A.'s restaurants has finally made its way into book form — and you can get a sneak peek of it Sunday when its editor and curator, Josh Kun, talks with chef Roy Choi at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

Using the Los Angeles Public Library's archive of local menus dating back to the 1800s, To Live and Dine in L.A.: Menus and the Making of a Modern City is the forthcoming compilation that explores what, how and where Angelenos have eaten for hundreds of years.

“The connection between food history and food genesis and food access are a really important part of the book and a really important part of why the library wants to do this project,” Kun says. 

Kun, a professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, will discuss with Choi, owner of Kogi BBQ, POT and Commissary, the discoveries he made in his anthropological study of L.A.’s food history. The study was done in collaboration with the Los Angeles Public Library and the Library Foundation of Los Angeles.

Kun spent roughly two years researching the project. With help from a team of undergraduate and masters journalism students, he unearthed over 9,000 menus (some of which we wrote about during our own scouring of LAPL's archives). In creating the book, Kun sought insight from a number of L.A.’s iconic chefs, including Choi, who wrote the foreword to the book.

A Tonga Lei cocktail list from the 1970s. The restaurant is now the Malibu Beach Inn.; Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

A Tonga Lei cocktail list from the 1970s. The restaurant is now the Malibu Beach Inn.; Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

This weekend’s discussion will take place at the new Wallis Annenberg Hall, utilizing the theater’s multimedia features to showcase selected menus featured in the upcoming book. This interactive session will walk the audience through the dissection of a classic L.A. menu.

“We’re actually going to be looking at old menus together,” says Kun. “And then [talk] about how the historical menus can be a guide for thinking about issues of hunger and food access and food inequality.”

To Live and Dine in L.A., which went to press this week, includes over 200 menus from all over the city. The book will hit the shelves in June.

“Our hope is that people read this book and think about their own memories about where they ate and the way that restaurants were important for how they conceived their own identities and thought about issue of community and culture and class,” Kun said. “Those are some of public issues that we try to tackle in the book.” 

The conversation with Josh Kun and Roy Choi will take place Sunday, April 19, noon, at Wallis Annenberg Hall, USC, 665 Exposition Boulevard, Exposition Park.

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LA Weekly