Food trucks are all the rage in cities across the country. In Los Angeles, there’s a food truck gridlock with offerings ranging from grilled cheese to cupcakes. But the one who started the craze – with a compelling taco, savvy use of social media and a dedication to serving healthy and delicious food to all people regardless of circumstance – is my friend Chef Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ fame.
I first met Roy at a holiday event at our kids’ school. I was in my chef whites looking for Ben and Nick in a sea of kids when I heard a little voice say, “chef, chef, daddy a chef.” I looked down to see a sweet little girl smiling up at me, and the telltale sign of a working chef … Roy’s black clogs splattered with sauce. The Kogi Taco Truck phenomenon hit many months later and quickly developed a cult following on Twitter.
I used to think about American Regional cuisine in macro-regions like Southwestern, but then I came face-to-face with Roy’s tacos and began to understand a new generation of American cuisine called micro-regional. Roy has pioneered “Angeleno” cuisine – not the Beverly Hills variety – but one that peels away the layers of fame and fortune to the mid-city blocks where he grew up. Blocks where several languages are spoken at once. Where neighbors from Korea and Mexico, for example, join together to celebrate and mourn. Food is central to both and the fusing of traditional flavors is a natural evolution.
Roy likes to say, “food is a vibe that’s spiritual” and if you cook with love, the food will taste delicious. The following recipe is for a very basic Korean-style Bulgogi marinade. Roy’s version is more complex, but this will get you started.
1 ½ cups Korean hot pepper paste (gochujang)*
1 cup pear juice
½ cup water
½ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup naturally brewed less sodium soy sauce
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until frothy and well combined. Use marinade for beef, pork, chicken, shrimp and tofu. Typical marinade time is 4 to 24 hours, depending on your protein choice. Grill meat on a charcoal grill and serve in cool lettuce leaves or toasty corn tortillas.
Dinner with Roy and his extended family can be at home, in one of his restaurants or on a street corner, but the conversation is real, the kids are welcome, and the food is always made with love.
* Found in Asian markets, especially Korean markets, or order on-line
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