Have you eaten delicious food at a food truck recently? If so, you might want to thank Roy Choi for that! Roy Choi is a Korean American chef who is one of the founders of the gourmet food truck trend that gained popularity by the early 2010s. He believes food does not have to be fancy (or stationary!) to be delicious.
Choi was born in South Korea, but grew up in Los Angeles. Growing up in diverse neighborhoods, he was exposed to many different food cultures. His family moved a lot and started many businesses. One of these businesses was the Silver Garden, a Korean restaurant his family owned for three years. His mother was a great cook who sold her delicious kimchi to people in their community. Kimchi is a Korean dish that is often spicy. The main ingredient is a kind of pickled vegetable, commonly cabbage. One of Roy Choi’s favorite memories was making dumplings at his parents’ restaurant at eight years old. As Choi was growing up, he also spent a lot of time with his Latino friends and learned about their food cultures.
When he was 24, Choi decided to go to the Culinary Institute of America in New York. He loved the structure and creativity of cooking. After graduating, Choi began working in high-end restaurants. Over the next six years, Choi moved up in the restaurant world. Everything was looking up until Choi was fired from a restaurant. He had a difficult time with the restaurant’s huge menu and fast pace. He tried to find a job at another restaurant. No one was hiring, and he felt like a failure.
One day, Choi’s friend Mark Manguera was eating Mexican food and thought, Why hasn’t anyone tried to combine Korean and Mexican food? He called up Roy Choi, and they decided to try to open a restaurant with these two styles and flavors fused together. Choi tested some combinations of ingredients in Manguera’s kitchen. He poured his heart into it. When he finished, they both tried the taco and immediately knew they had something special.
Choi and Manguera wanted to get the Korean taco to customers, but it was an especially difficult time to open a restaurant. It was 2008, and the economy had collapsed, making it almost impossible to get a small business loan to start a restaurant. But Choi and Manguera would not be stopped. Instead, they decided to sell their Korean barbecue tacos out of a catering truck. They called the food truck “Kogi.” People loved the flavorful food, and Choi used social media to let his fans know where the truck would be each day. Hundreds of people began flocking to the truck to get cheap, delicious Korean tacos.
Today, Roy Choi runs several restaurants in Los Angeles. He finds inspiration in many different food cultures. A few years after starting Kogi, Choi opened a restaurant called “Sunny Spot,” serving Caribbean-inspired dishes. Choi continues to encourage other chefs to create their own food trucks. It is a cheaper way for new chefs to get their food out on the streets! Now, food trucks are greatly respected in the restaurant community, largely thanks to the creativity of Roy Choi.