Roy Choi’s tacos, filled with Korean barbecue-style meats, could be the perfect Los Angeles food. Choi would know, having lived all over the region. “I never stayed at a school for more than two years,” he said, rattling off the various places he called home, “West Hollywood, Inglewood, Koreatown, Downtown, Norwalk, Fullerton, Anaheim, Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, the City of Orange, Mission Viejo, and back to Miracle Mile.” Below, learn more about the man behind KoGi.
Q. What do you wake up to?
A. Usually my daughter saying cock-a-doodle-doo. She pinches my nose and then she says cock-a-doodle-doo.
Q. What music have you listened to today?
A. We listened to Los Tigres del Norte. We have satellite radio at the restaurant, so we also heard A Tribe Called Quest mix. It was all the old school hip-hop.
Q. What’s your favorite word?
A. I say ‘beautiful’ a lot, but I think my favorite word is ‘honesty’.
Q. What do you find beautiful?
A. I find people’s imperfections beautiful, and things that are underneath the normal standards of what is considered perfect. Things that people don’t pay attention to, or that go past their eyes, whether it’s weeds on the streets or graffiti.
Q. How would you describe yourself in five words or fewer?
A. I’m an angry son of a bitch. But I’m honest. I put my heart and soul into everything. That’s more than five words.
Q. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A. I didn’t really have a choice as a child. I grew up in an Asian family where your destiny is kind of created for you, whether that’s being a doctor or lawyer or a scientist. To be honest I didn’t know what I wanted to be until I was 25. That’s when I knew I was going to be a chef. Until that time I was living for my parents.
Q. What is your favorite cocktail?
A. I don’t drink. I used to drink, but I wasn’t a sophisticated drinker, so maybe a Manhattan or a screwdriver.
Q. What is your greatest extravagance?
A. Spending all the cash in my pocket wherever I go. I have a big problem–if I have cash in my pocket I buy everything around me, so I usually don’t carry cash.
Q. If you could take only one more journey, where would you go?
A. I don’t know if I can choose where I want to go…. Right now I just let the journey take me wherever it needs to go. But if it’s a physical place, I’d really like to go to Africa.
Q. What profession would you like to practice in your next life?
A. I’m lucky enough to do this in this life. I just figured this one out.
Q. What would be your death row meal?
A. Probably a bowl of rice, a soft egg, some soy sauce, and a nice crispy roasted chicken.
Q. What is your favorite holiday and why?
A. I’ve never really had holidays. I grew up in a restaurant, and I’ve been a hotel chef. To me, holidays are always the day after. So I guess the day after Christmas.
Q. What is your fondest childhood memory?
A. I don’t have a particular one because I think my childhood was a little tough. I think it was just the fact that my family stayed together through a lot of hardship. My fondest childhood memory is a collage of us sticking together through the mid-70s.
Q. What is your most prized material possession?
A. Probably one knife that I have, one of the first knives I got, an eight-inch Henckels chef’s knife.
Q. What promise do you make to yourself that you break the most often?
A. That I’m going to spend time with my family. The tough thing about being a chef is that in many cases, even if your husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, daughter, son is pleading you to come home, in most cases you don’t go home.
Q. What should you throw away but haven’t been able to part with?
A. Useless bills and paperwork that I pile up in boxes and never look at.
Q. Who is the one person living or dead that you’d most love to have a beer with?
A. I don’t know, I don’t really care, to be honest, about meeting people or who I meet. I don’t look at anyone as more important than anybody else. Whoever I meet I give all my energy to so I don’t really have anyone specific.
*Photo by Aaron Salcido.