With driving metaphors coming fast and furious throughout this memoir cum cookbook, there is no doubting and no pulling away from Choi’s gritty embrace of L.A.’s mean streets. Starting with his childhood immigration from Korea and his family’s constant upheaval and relocation across South Central, through West Hollywood, and into a house once owned by baseball great Nolan Ryan in Orange County, Choi learns the restaurant business, as well as the jewelry business, at his parents’ apron strings, before falling in with a rough crowd as a teen. Typical of Choi’s 90 m.p.h. stream-of-consciousness, he recalls, “Step up in a fight, drop three hits of acid... go eat, rob a store, babysit your kid? Sure. Let’s go.” His taste for kimchi and dumplings give way to a taste for crack and gambling, but a happy ending is served up as Choi emerges relatively unscathed by his vices, lucks into an education at New York’s Culinary School of America, and finally finds his groove back in Los Angeles as the kingpin of Kogi BBQ Taco Trucks. A total of 60 recipes are included, dropped in like mile markers across his life’s story. There are the twice-cooked duck fat fries he loved as a kid, the kung pao chicken he ate with his crew, and the dishes, such as broiled halibut with soy glaze, that came with maturity. Doe Coover, Doe Coover Agency. (Nov.)
“At the moment, Roy Choi is one of the most prominent lenses the nation has into L.A.”
“Choi is the rare chef whose life storywhich includes working with chef Eric Ripert and a weeklong cocaine bingeis as compelling as his food.”
His beautiful book .... is two parts story (Choi’s coming up), one part recipe (his OMG crazy good creations, like ketchup fried rice). You may never cook from this book (though the recipes are eminently doable), but it won’t matter. It’s a fun flip even if all you do is drool.”
“A a memoir-cookbook that moves like a novel.”
“In its pages, and even more so in person, one finds in Choi a personality who is at once high-end and low-end, flawed and at the top of his game, relentless and chill, coarse and refined-and absolutely, unapologetically authentic.”
The title of this work not so subtly hints that whatever is coming, it's personal—and that the author is likely to be opinionated. Indeed, chef Choi shoots from the hip, folding recipes into his life to make a sort of autobiographical cookbook. Born in Korea, Choi grew up in Los Angeles, and he weaves stories of gambling and addiction together with reflections on culture, identity, and family, resulting in a memoir as bold as the flavors in his food. Recipes range widely (Korean fried chicken, beef cheek tacos, twice-cooked duck fat fries) and include Choi's varied influences—a mélange of his classical training at the Culinary Institute of America and the more global flavors of his childhood. Most dishes should be accessible to even less-experienced cooks. The volume contains ample photographs and information on sourcing ingredients, cooking tools, and basic techniques. VERDICT Though this title isn't for the faint of heart, Bourdain fans will eat up this gritty memoir-slash-cookbook.—Courtney Greene McDonald, Indiana Univ. Libs., Bloomington
Street-wise, honest in its admission of trials and punctuated with vernacular swagger, Choi's debut pays tribute to family and his enduring fascination with the melting pot of Los Angeles. Named Best New Chef by Food & Wine in 2010, the author is the co-founder and co-owner of Kogi BBQ, Chego! and other restaurants. With co-writers Nguyen and Phan, Choi recounts key moments during his childhood and teenage years as the son of Korean immigrants who ran the Silver Garden restaurant and whose path from apartments in Koreatown to a mansion in Mission Viejo was marked by turmoil and adventuresome forays in the jewelry trade. Choi's experiences of love, success, failure, duty and the culture shock of upward mobility during the 1980s set the stage for drug experimentation and gambling addiction. Later chapters detail the sudden realization that led him to the Culinary Institute of America in New York, his apprenticeship and his rise in the restaurant industry. Choi presents the impressive turnaround with gratitude and panache, which balance an otherwise casual tone rife with expletives. Dozens of recipes range from indulgent cheap eats, such as instant ramen with sliced cheese, to more complex fare, including duck breast and beef medallions. From deli-style pecan pie to eggplant curry, kimchi jjigae to carne asada, Choi's eclectic selections are not intended to showcase his finest repertoire; they represent tried-and-true comfort foods that have sustained him at varying stages during his life. Using memory as a guide, this highly personal tour of LA and New York reveals pockets of ingenuity in vibrant, sometimes-rough neighborhoods. A bold account of how a professionally trained chef found his calling in the return to simpler, homestyle cooking that bridges cultures and appeals to everyday customers.