Roy Choi

As a creator of LA's celebrated gourmet food truck culture, this chef did more than sling marinated Korean barbecue tacos. He brought Los Angelenos together.
Roy Choi
Roy Choi Speaker

Named one of Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chefs of 2010, Roy Choi is the Korean American chef behind Los Angeles restaurants Chego!, Sunny Spot, Alibi Room, A-Frame, 3 Worlds Cafe, POT and Commissary. 3 Worlds Cafe is a small smoothie shop and cafe he helped open in the heart of South Central, LA, with the neighbourhood-based Coalition for Responsible Community Development, fruit conglomerate Dole Packaged Foods and nearby Jefferson High School.

He has authored a New York Times bestselling cookbook/memoir L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food and has his own CNN.com series called Street Food.

He is also known as the "godfather of the food truck movement" thanks to his success with the much-celebrated Kogi, a Korean taco truck. At a time when chefs and food trucks were members of distinctly different classes of the food world, Choi had the gall to rent a truck with his partners and hit the streets of Los Angeles.

In 2014, writer/director/actor Jon Favreau collaborated with Choi on the movie Chef, which is about an upmarket restaurant chef who quits fine dining and opens a food truck in Los Angeles serving Cuban-style sandwiches. One of the food truck scenes in Chef was shot in Abbot Kinney Boulevard near Venice Beach, LA. "It was an important spot for Roy," said Favreau in a Los Angeles Eater article. "Because that's where his Kogi truck first started and that was the epicentre.”

With a pedigree that includes the Culinary Institute of America, Le Bernardin and the Beverly Hilton, Choi might not have seemed like a likely candidate to go roadside, hawking tacos on street corners. But this bold move garnered praise and attention of the food press and public alike. With his Korean-Mexican tacos as the star, Choi has expanded the vision that drives him: to keep building affordable, high-quality restaurants in inner cities.

As the California Sunday Magazine put it: "For him, the trendy juxtaposition of high and low culture is not just a culinary aesthetic: It’s a pathway to social change."