Street food king Roy Choi's memoir, L.A. SON, drops Nov. 5, documenting the chef's rise from immigrant kid to stoner gambler to Culinary Institute of America grad, charting his move from Le Bernardin to California hotels to corporate chain chefdom. The final stop, obviously, is his invention of Korean-Mexican fusion food truck Kogi BBQ, the beginning of the food truck craze in Los Angeles (and nationwide).
Naturally, the recipes featured in this memoir-cum-cookbook range from kimchi, dumplings, and abalone porridge (his parents did own a restaurant for a good part of his childhood, after all) to the perfect $4 spaghetti and veal stock. And while the book itself is a culinary map of Los Angeles, let's not forget that Choi did start in New York, learning basic techniques at the C.I.A., getting schooled at Aureole, Le Grenouille, and Le Cirque, and finally landing an internship at Le Bernardin with Eric Ripert.
Here’s Choi on meeting his Le Bernardin coworker — The Meatball Shop’s Daniel Holzman. (Editor's note: Curse words have been mildly censored.)
Excerpt from L.A. SON by Roy Choi
To this day, I remember his entrance: he came into the kitchen, singing with all the confidence in the world. He was no more than seventeen years old, with curly sandy brown hair, all cocky as one can be when one looks just like Justin Timberlake. Even before his first words to me came out of his mouth I couldn’t stand the guy.
He started showing me things, but he went too fast. I was overwhelmed and needed to catch a breath, a moment to focus so I could get back into the fight. But he was on me like white on rice, telling me how much I sucked, to pick it up, that sh*t was whack, that I was weak. All I needed was a damn second, and he wouldn’t give me that space. Finally, I threw in the towel and told him to hold the f*ck up. Asked him to take a walk into the walk-in with me to hash it out. Explained to him in so many words that I was new to this sh*t and if we were going to work together, he had to give me a f*cking break. And that rat-a-tat military drill was not how we rolled in Cali — I’d catch up quick to this New York style, but it was day f*cking one!
He listened. Then he laughed. And I laughed. And from that day forward, we became very close friends. As it turned out, we worked well together because he wasn’t as good as he thought he was and I was no good but trying to be better. We would become inseparable.
The end of the shift at the restaurant was just the beginning of our night. If it was pay day, Danny and I usually went straight to some seedy 24-hour check-cashing spot on the West Side Highway in Hell’s Kitchen, got our cash, and fueled up with 2 a.m. grub before hitting the club. Danny had a deep crew in the city. His boy Mike Chernow was a young phenom in the NYC club scene. They both came out of the Fame high school for performing arts and had a crazy group of friends like in the movie Kids. Mike worked the door at Limelight, and we would stroll in, no wait no matter the line. We would get with girls and pound shots, then head off to a rave club called Carbon on 55th and 12th, where we’d do hits of E. We’d stumble out at 5 a.m., cloaked in kisses and hugs, and head to a diner for a predawn breakfast of milk shakes, burgers, eggs, spaghetti, soup, pastrami, Greek salad, and falafel.
On more mellow nights, Danny and I would go to the pool hall and play until 4 a.m., grabbing a slice or a hot dog in between games. Some nights we’d call a Jamaican car service that picked you up on one block, drove around another, and dropped you off again at the same spot, only you’d exit with weed in hand. And we would chill with all the young homies and sassy girls from Riverdale or the Upper West Side and smoke in an alley or on a back stoop or in one of the girls’ cars. That was the life. Even with the stress of the line, I was having a blast. The angry ghosts of self-despair that had haunted me in LA didn’t follow me to New York. For the first time in a long time, I could smile, just truly smile, and trust the pure, good energy of my environment.
I was becoming a cook in New York City. And it felt f*cking great.
Excerpted from L.A. SON: My Life, My City, My Food by Roy Choi. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollinsPublishers.
L.A. SON: My Life, My City, My Food is available Nov. 5, with signed copies available here.