Tag Archives: Roy Choi

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[VIDEO] San Francisco Meets Los Angeles: A Conversation with Chefs Corey Lee and Roy Choi

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

Reputations have a habit of preceding, and it was no different when it came to two of the most established chefs on the West Coast.

“You’re not as intense as I imagined,” Roy Choi quipped to Corey Lee in front of an enthusiastic group of foodies and fans in Santa Monica in late April. “You’re a very calm and nice guy, actually. I was scared, I was ready to say, ‘Oui, Chef.’”

“That’s what I heard about you,” Lee retorted. “‘He’s a gangster.’”

On April 22, the two Korean American chefs met face-to-face for the first time for a chat in Santa Monica, Calif. as Lee kicked off his tour to promote his new cookbook, Benu (published by Phaidon), which is named after his three-Michelin-star restaurant in San Francisco. The recipes are presented as a 33-course tasting menu, and Lee includes several personal anecdotes that reveal the influences behind Benu’s signature dishes.

At first glance, the chefs come across as two distinct players in the business: Choi, a visionary chef who reps L.A. hard and is responsible for single-handedly changing how the world looks at food trucks; Lee, who is renowned worldwide for his culinary skills and knowledge of French, Chinese and Korean cuisines that play out into the unique offering at Benu.

But while their products may seem like they belong to different spheres in the culinary world, Lee and Choi explained there are more similarities to their food—especially when it comes down to how their respective upbringings and backgrounds play out in the dishes.

corey-lee-by-eric-wolfinger-01Corey Lee. Photo by Eric Wolfinger

“I’m not sure if Roy’s food is worlds apart from ours [at Benu],” Lee said in response to a question from an audience member. “I think from a consumer’s perspective, it might be. But from a chef’s perspective, from an entrepreneur’s perspective, I think there are a lot of parallels, and the more I talk to Roy, I realize that.”

“I had an upbringing that doesn’t seem like it would foster a chef’s career,” Lee added. “But I think that for those of us who were born in another country and came over to the U.S., this process of trying to recreate the food culture of our native country here in the U.S. is a very big part of our lives.”

Food writers haven’t found a specific brand to describe Lee’s food at Benu. Some have summarized it as Asian and French fusion or having Asian “influences.” Lee doesn’t subscribe to a certain brand—though he did write a book trying to explain it. At the same time, Lee admits he didn’t intend the cookbook to be as personal as it eventually became.

“When you go to explain your motivations for a dish, or the reasons why you think it’s worth documenting, that’s the kind of journey I thought was really educational for me in writing the book,” Lee explained. “Getting a better understanding of why these dishes were important to me, or where they came from, how they were conceived, and how that relates to my upbringing—a lot of it is tied to Korean food, Korean culture and Korean traditions.”

Be sure to check out our video of the highlights from Lee and Choi’s conversation as the chefs discuss their respective backgrounds, philosophies and influences in their careers—as well as their favorite Korean dishes.

Lee will be in Asia during the month of May, stopping by Hong Kong and Seoul before hitting the final leg of his tour in Toronto. On May 27, Lee will close his tour in Toronto with a conversation featuring Momofuku’s chef and founder, David Chang, who also wrote a foreword in the Benu cookbook.

Below are a few images and excerpts from Lee’s Benu cookbook, which is available on Amazon through publisher Phaidon.

BENU book shot

Thousand year old quail eggThe thousand-year-old quail egg, the first course on the menu. Pidan, as it is known, is usually made with duck eggs, but Lee went with quail eggs for the smaller size and a “whimsical variation” from tradition.

“How pidan was conceived and developed is one of the great mysteries and triumphs so often found in Chinese cuisine,” Lee writes. “And its enjoyment can be a great reward for the adventurous and open-minded eater.”

Beggar's PurseThe beggar’s purse of treasures from the oak is composed of acorn, Iberico ham and black truffle. These are innately connected, Lee says: “It’s such an obvious and natural combination of flavors, but one that’s a product of being Korean, living in northern California, and working in European kitchens.”

Kimchi PotsLee didn’t have the fondest memories of growing up with kimchi, and it took him years to reconnect with it. But things have come “full circle” for him, as Benu now makes and serves their own kimchi.

“The most well-known variety, baechu kimchi … is what we make at Benu. The flavor profile is based on my mother’s–refreshing, loaded with daikon and green onion, firm in texture, not too sweet or spicy, and just a hint of seafood.”

San FranciscoA view of San Francisco from the Marin headlands. “Benu is very much a restaurant that’s influenced by different cultures,” Lee writes. “The cooking at Benu often explores how Asian flavors, ideas and aesthetics can harmonize with Western ones.”

Benu 4Lee at a specialty barbecue restaurant in South Korea.

Benu 3The haenyeo, or “sea women,” of Jeju Island in South Korea. During his visit, Lee and his team had the chance to meet them and photograph the haenyeo as they went about their daily free-dives.

“They are the living emblems of Korean cultural heritage and embody the resilience of its people, and, in particular, the strength and self-sacrifice of its women,” Lee writes. “And for me, their unwavering spirit is much more beautiful and palpable that can be imagined through any folklore.”

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All images from Benu by Eric Wolfinger

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Link Attack: Roy Choi in Watts; Dogs Rescued From Meat Farm; Custom Emoji Keyboard

Video: Roy Choi Wants the Next Food Revolution to Start in Watts

The first location will be in Watts at a site that used to be smoke shop and a barbershop. Choi says that his team wanted to open a location somewhere in South Los Angeles, and they ended up focusing on Watts because of the sense of community they found there. (LAist)

Dogs Rescued from South Korean Meat Farm Brought to San Francisco

Thirteen frightened young dogs and puppies arrived in San Francisco in a van Thursday, some trembling, tails between their legs, others with sad but hopeful eyes, and all of them unaware of how close they came to an agonizing, gruesome death. (SF Gate)

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Memoji Keyboard Allows You To Emojify Yourself

Johnny Lin, an ex-Apple engineer, created a way for users to upload their own faces as emoji. Angry Asian Man Phil Yu tries it out.

‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ is Doing Shockingly Well in South Korea

Why is the movie such a huge hit in the South Korean film market? Cinema Blend speculates the reasons, from the visuals to the high fashion costume design to director Matthew Vaughn’s popularity in South Korea.

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23 Most Anticipated Korean Films of 2015

Modern Korean Cinema lists the Korean films they’re most looking forward to this year.

Homebrew and House Parties: How North Koreans Have Fun

“Despite restrictions on money and free time, partying is integral to North Korean culture. But how does it compare to cutting loose in the South?” writes The Guardian.

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Korean Star Jung Ho Kang May Be Much Better Than Advertised

“In so many words, clubs just didn’t see many reasons to be optimistic about Kang,” writes Bleacher Report. “But as early as it is, one wonders how many are thinking differently these days.”

Searing Complaint Against Korean Church

The Contra Costa Korean Presbyterian Church is being sued for negligence in their hiring of a youth pastor, who the plaintiff claims repeatedly sexually molester her and her sister.

Shinhan Bank President Cho Yong-byoung Pledges to Solidify Status as Leading Bank

In his inauguration speech on March 18, Shinhan Bank President Cho Yong-byoung emphasized, “I will solidify our status as a leading bank.”

Cho said, “Through ceaseless innovation, we must create new opportunities and values and maintain the highest level of profitability and soundness.”

GM Canada Gets New General Counsel and Assistant GC, Peter Cho

It won’t be Cho’s first time behind the wheel of an automotive law department. He was most recently general counsel, corporate secretary and head of government relations at Volkswagen Group Canada, and has also has worked with Volkswagen Group China and Kia Canada.

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K-Town Landmarks Hope to Begin Summer Construction

The Olympic Gateway, a long-projected landmark for Los Angeles’ Koreatown, as well as the Madang project at Da Wool Jung, are expected to begin construction as soon as mid-May.

Korean Calligraphy Exhibition Open at Chicago Korean Cultural Center

On display are about 70 works by students of Kit-beol Village Calligrapher Lee Chul-woo. (Korea Times)

Four Korean American Officers Join Fairfax County Police Department After Graduating Academy

Arthur Cho, John Hong, Seung Meang and Shane Oh were among the 60 new police officers and deputies who graduated from the academy. This is the first time in the history of the department that an academy class had this many Korean-American graduates. (Centreville Independent)

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Roy Choi’s Loco’l Indiegogo Campaign Meets $100K Goal

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Last night, chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson reached their $100,000 crowdfunding goal for their “revolutionary” fast food chain Loco’l, making it the most successful food campaign on Indiegogo, reports L.A. Eater.

Choi and Patterson first launched their crowdfunding campaign in January in order to provide affordable, nutritious and locally-sourced fast food to inner city areas.

Now that Loco’l is fully funded on the crowdfunding side, it looks like the chain’s first two locations, Los Angeles’ Watts and San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhoods, are good to go. Once the two spots are up and running, Choi and Patterson will look to expand their chain to other possible locations, including East Oakland, Pacoima, Richmond and Anaheim.

Today is the last day of the Loco’l crowdfunding campaign, so if you still want to contribute, you can donate a few bucks on the campaign’s Indiegogo page.

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Featured image via Loco’l Indiegogo page

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Roy Choi Reveals Second Loco’l Restaurant in Watts, Los Angeles

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson’s commitment to bring affordable, locally-sourced fast food to the inner city took another step forward today. The social media-savvy Choi revealed on Twitter that the future second location of Loco’l will be in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.

According to L.A. Eater, the area is just a few blocks away from the recognizable Watts Towers and about 7.5 miles south of Downtown. This isn’t the first time the chef has opened an eatery in South L.A. Last summer, Choi opened Three Worlds Cafe in South Central, a neighborhood where he has close connections with the locals.

The first Loco’l restaurant will open in the Tenderloin district in San Francisco. There hasn’t been a specific opening date for either restaurant, but they are both slated to open this year. You can check out their crowdfunding effort on Indiegogo to learn more about the Loco’l team or even contribute to the campaign.

Image via L.A. Eater

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Roy Choi’s Fast Food Restaurant Loco’l Launches Crowdfunding Effort

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

Fast food chains aren’t known to crowdfund, but Loco’l isn’t your normal fast food restaurant. Spearheaded by chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson, Loco’l is touted as a locally sourced and affordable fast food option.

The first location is set to open in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood later this year. The funds from the Indiegogo campaign will go towards building that first restaurant. As of Jan. 14, 2015, the campaign has raised 7 percent of its $150,000 goal.

“Our vision with Loco’l is to create a fast food concept that’s delicious, but do it with the heart of a chef,” the Indiegogo campaign page says. “As chefs, we’re approaching it just like we would another restaurant … Then on the other side of it is being aware of what fast food is and what it’s become in America, and why it’s so important, popular, and powerful. Not trying to throw all of those things away.”

“We’re just trying to take it back to basics,” the page continues. “A lot of these fast food chains weren’t evil before. Somehow along the line as businesses grow, money and things start to change your decisions. Then before you know it, sometimes you don’t know which way is up anymore. Our philosophy in this is always to know which way is up. As chefs, we would never get to the point where we would be serving poison to people.”

One basic staple of fast food is the burger, and according to Choi, the cornerstone of Loco’l will be a 99 cent burger. The challenge will be not to make it a gourmet burger, but something that “feels, tastes, looks, smells, and sits in your hand just like a Quarter Pounder.”

Perks for contributors include with a social media shout-out, Loco’l sticker, signed copies of the chefs’ individual books (including Choi’s L.A. Son), and even opportunities to personally hang out with the chefs or get a private cooking class with Chef Chad Robertson from Tartine.

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Roy Choi’s Fast Food Restaurant to Open in San Francisco Next Year

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

Not many individuals can create a fast food chain from the ground up, but not everyone is Roy Choi.

After announcing his latest venture with Chef Daniel Patterson back in the summer, Choi made the official announcement yesterday that the first location of the chain, called loco’l, will be in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. Locals can expect the restaurant to open by late spring/early summer.

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Choi and Patterson unveiled their plans for the fast food chain back in August at the MAD3 symposium. Patterson said that they planned to start a business that could grow quickly to “supplant the fast-food chains and convenience stores that separate our youth from the taste of real food.”

“I envisioned a new kind of fast-food restaurant that served real food in a nice environment, and which could contribute to the neighborhood around it in myriad ways,” he added. “My answer lay to the south, in Los Angeles, where Roy Choi was bringing people together from all over the city around Kogi—food trucks that served tasty, hard-to-categorize food.”

For Roy Choi, loco’l is his latest project in offering affordable and healthy options–a rare “food oasis–to neighborhoods that are considered “food deserts.” Last year, Choi opened 3 Worlds Cafe in South Central Los Angeles, an idea that originated from a fruit cart project Choi was running at the local Jefferson High School.

“Price point, culture, design, hospitality, relevance and most of all flavor,” Choi said to Inside Scoop SF in August. “We will be using all our sciences and knowledge and sixth sense as restaurateurs/chefs to create a concept people love and a menu they crave, but keep it all in the pocket, keep it all affordable and delicious, and speak to what the people want.”

The location was seemingly the perfect fit for the restaurant, which is part of an overall community project. The intersection of Taylor Street and Turk, where loco’l will open, will be seeing was identified as one of nine “action zones” by the Tenderloin Health Improvement Partnership (TLHIP) with the goal of rebuilding and revamping the neighborhood. Future locations for loco’l include other inner-city “food deserts,” including Oakland, Pleasanton and Watts in L.A.

Loco’l plans to offer a menu with options like tofu-and-grain-heavy burgers, veggie bowls, falafel, rice bowls, and other items in the $2-6 range, according to Eater SF. The restaurant will also feature a “multi-use commissary kitchen” for cooking classes hosted by Patterson and The Cooking Project, a San Francisco nonprofit.

As the Bay Area gets its first taste of Roy Choi, Southern California can’t get enough of him. Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Swingers) and Choi announced back in September that they were trying to open a restaurant in Los Angeles featuring some of the cuisine from Chef, a film that chronicled their road trip. Along with the Kogi truck, Choi’s current list of restaurants in Los Angeles includes 3 Worlds Cafe, Chego!, Sunny Spot, A-Frame and POT at the Line Hotel in Koreatown.

Don’t forget, Choi also has his own reality show on CNN coming up sometime in 2015, too.

Feature image via Grub Street

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Chef Corey Lee’s Benu Receives Three Michelin Stars

by JAMES S. KIM

San Francisco’s reputation for excellent cuisine soared as two more of its restaurants were awarded three stars by the 2015 Michelin Guide to Bay Area restaurants, which was released earlier today.

As of yesterday, Chef Corey Lee’s Benu and Joshua Skenes’ Saison joined Bay Area’s restaurants the French Laundry and the Restaurant at Meadowood in the esteemed three-star category.

Michelin’s international director told Mercury News what set Benu and Saison apart were a “dazzling and distinctive fusion of local ingredients, Asian inspiration and Northern Californian gastronomic sensibility.”

Lee opened Benu in August 2010 and was given two stars by Michelin in October 2011. KoreAm had the opportunity to talk to him then about the food he serves, as well as his journey to becoming one of the most well-known chefs in San Francsico. You can read the article here from the November 2011 issue of KoreAm.

Expect to hear a lot more about Lee and Skenes and their cuisine in the coming months. Lee, a French Laundry alum, opened Monsieur Benjamin, a 90-seat bistro, over the summer, and he is putting together a cookbook. Skenes also has one on the way, and he plans to open a hand-pulled noodle restaurant with Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman in 2015.

Mercury News also noted the rise of Asian-inspired restaurants on the Michelin list. Along with Benu and Saison, sushi restaurants Kusakabe and Maruya joined the one-star roster. Seven out of the 13 newcomers to the 2015 Michelin Bib Gourmand honors, which is bestowed on excellent restaurants where two courses and a glass of wine costs $40 or less, were Chinese, Japanese or Asian-inspired. You can find the full list of the 2015 restaurants here.

According to SF Gate, it’s the first time in history that San Francisco proper has had a three-star Michelin restaurant, let alone two. The French Laundry and the Restaurant at Meadowood are both in Napa Valley.

If you’re looking to make a reservation at the newly-christened Benu or Saison, do it quickly and expect to pay a good amount. Saison was already among the most expensive restaurants in America, and Benu could understandably raise their prices.

The West Coast now boasts four Michelin three-star restaurants, although unfortunately for Southern Californians, they’re all in the Bay Area. Chef Roy Choi is quick to defend the Southland, however.

The 2015 Michelin dining guide for San Francisco, one of just three U.S. regions to have its own guide, goes on sale today. The Michelin Guide discontinued its Los Angeles version two years ago.

Photo by Vivien Kim Thorp

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Roy Choi to Launch Healthy, Affordable Fast Food Chain

by JAMES S. KIM

Is there anything this man isn’t doing?

In his latest culinary venture, chef Roy Choi is partnering up with San Francisco chef Daniel Patterson to launch a new chain of fast food restaurants called Loco’l. The chefs made the announcement on Monday at MAD4, the fourth annual Copenhagen conference for chefs, cooks and farmers.

“We want to go toe to toe with fast food chains and offer the community a choice,” Choi told Inside Scoop SF.

“Price point, culture, design, hospitality, relevance and most of all flavor. We will be using all our sciences and knowledge and sixth sense as restaurateurs/chefs to create a concept people love and a menu they crave, but keep it all in the pocket, keep it all affordable and delicious, and speak to what the people want.”

All items on the menu will range from $2-$6 in order to compete with places like McDonald’s and Burger King. The recipes will be prepared by Patterson, who owns the Coi in San Francisco and has appeared on PBS’s Mind of a Chef. According to LA Eater, dishes will include burgers made with a beef and tofu mixture, salads, rice bowls, and “cross-cultural” items like falafel and tacos–the latter of which Choi knows a thing or two about.

For the lucky NorCal folk, Choi and Patterson plan to open the first Loco’l branch in San Francisco in spring 2015, and Los Angeles will get its own a few months later.

“High-level chefs have an opportunity to do much more than just cook for the few people who can afford it,” Patterson said in a blog post on the MAD website. “We can create real change, in this case, by building a better business. As much as thoughtful articles and speeches and books are important in shifting how we think, they are not going to solve the food problems we have in our country.

“If we can open profitable restaurants that are inexpensive and serve delicious food made with real ingredients; if we bring new options to places that currently lack quality food; if we cook with heart; if we create an environment of warmth, generosity and caring; if we value the people with less money just as much as the ones with plenty, we can make a difference.”

At last year’s MAD conference, Choi emphasized social responsibility among chefs to bring delicious, healthy food to people in need. And as busy as he’s been, especially with the recently opened Commissary restaurant at the Line Hotel in Koreatown, where he also has Pot, Pot Cafe and Pot Bar, the chef appears to be doing his part to carry out that vision.

Last year, Choi opened the 3 Worlds Cafe in South Central Los Angeles, which is often referred to as a food desert because of the lack of healthy food options available in the area. With its fresh juices, smoothies and coffee the goal was to bring healthy, delicious options to a place where chefs and restaurants normally kept away from, as well as provide a place for local youth to frequent.

Choi said Loco’l was the beginning of a “ripple movement,” and like the inspiration for its name, it’s going to be crazy.

“Loco–we are crazy to do this and you’re crazy to believe it,” he said. “Local–it’s about the community and everyone, not just the ones that can afford it. Loco’l.”

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