Interview with Roy Choi (May 15th, 2012 6:05pm)
[J: Jenni S: Sharon R: Roy Choi]
J: What kind of food do you eat?
R: Korean food with American food mashed it up together and with a bowl of rice inside. Really what Chego is. Speaking of Asian American studies..you guys are younger than I ..when I was grown up, it is very embarrassing. Thefood that you eat at home and school is really two separate world. What Chego was..almost like…put confidence back into what you grow up with..without the shame of it..really like give it to the rest of the world, I love being grown up even though I am little bit trying to hide it but other people would love it. That’s what chego is. Chego is the food from your home refrigerator. We didn’t grow up with sandwiches. I grow up with food like rice, egg and always with soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce and some left over vegetables, so it was really about putting all those things together and come up with Chego. That’s what Chego represents. The way Chego looks, represent you guys (Asian American). If anyone ask me how is it feel like to be an Asian American, it was like all f-cked up.
S: How do you come up with the name, Chego?
R: Chego means the best like “thumb up” in Korean. Chego comes from a lot of spiritual things. We first renovated the restaurant. It was an old Chinese restaurant and we operated it as a rice-bowl restaurant. Right before Chego opened for about 3 months, all what I see was thumbs. Everywhere I went, I saw thumbs. Throughout San Gabriel, Korea-town, even though I turned around the corner, I saw thumbs everywhere, so it was kind of a spiritual sign. Even though I was driving, people give me a thumb. Then, I saw an old Korean man. I felt like you eat Korean food to honor the old street tradition, so the old man do the same thing over and over and we want to create a food that is so delicious kind of like when your grandmother cook food for you and she ask you how it was but your mouth was too full.
J: We checked out Kogi truck and we are going to try A-frame next week.
R: oh..cool! A-frame is another side of personality and it would be more like Hawaiian, but you would never know it is Hawaiian theme or Hawaiian spirit, Aloha spirit.
S: (I pointed to Selina.) She is Hawaiian.
R: Oh! (surprised!) I went to Hawaii when I was 16 and it was like my second home. A-frame is really about aloha spirit, going out, go to beach, eating together. It was inspired by a restaurant called “Side-Street Inn” in Ala Moana which was like a late night place. It is all about sharing, eating with your hands, all of those things are energy. When you walk in, it was almost like walk into Aloha. It was truly about the local style. You will see. It is really fun.
It was a big surprise to see Roy Choi at the restaurant, and we saw the ABC channel was filming the restaurant as well. The first impression of Roy Choi was very Americanized with hip pop clothing style and a blue cap. Throughout the entire conversation, Roy Choi was very nice and open-minded to talk with us about his restaurant, Chego and A-frame. As a Korean American, his restaurants serve as medium to connect him to the Korean culture and identity. He was born in Seoul and immigrated to the United States when he was two years old. He did not know much about the Korean culture, and he saw himself as an Americanized person more than a Korean American. Until he founded Kogi, Chego, Alibi Room, A-frame and sunny spot, he finally found his connection with Korean culture though mixture of food.
People generally see his restaurants as “Asian fusion”. Roy insists, “It’s not even close to fusion. It is an expression of Los Angeles. It is what it is because it came from Los Angles.”