Roy Choi was graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in philosophy; he even attended one year of law school and actually studied Russian for a year. He laughs when he remembers the quixotic dreams he once harbored.
“Even though I was a f-ck in some sense, I was still a Korean kid, so I was trying to do right and be the ultimate in everything. Growing up Asian, anything less is unacceptable. So I had this grand scheme in my head that I was going to be this multifaceted international lawyer that figured out peace treaties and sh-t like that.NATO-level sh-t. It was all a charade.” At that point, his parents and friends would have been happy if he just learned a trade.”
Roy knew he needed to turn his life around and the inspiration came in the form of –BAM!—Emeril Lagasse. Roy was home, eating Cheetos, as he recalls, when he happened upon Emeril’s cooking show on the Food Network. “That’s when the dust settled. This is something I could do,” Roy told himself.
Eventually Roy graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1998. After some training at the famed three Michelin-starred restaurant Le Bernadin, in New York City, Roy returned to California to the thinly populated desert town of Borrego Springs, where he bounced around a few corporate chef gigs.
Over the next several years, Roy climbed the ranks of Hilton Hotels & Resorts’ Food and Beverages services, working as a chef/consultant for the brand, finally landing the chef de cuisine position at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. It was at the Beverly Hilton where he met the food and beverage director, Mark Manguera, who would later co-found Kogi. By 2008, Roy had been laid off as chef de cuisine at Rock Sugar Pan Asian Kitchen in Century City. “That was when Mark called me up and was like, ‘So what happened? You lost your job? Who gives a sh-t? Let’s go run some game on the street.’” The rest, as they say, is history.
As Roy’s stature in the industry continues to rise, he has yet to fully embrace his newfound celebrity, but is grateful for the opportunity it affords. On top of Kogi, Roy is also executive chef/partner of four brick-and-mortar restaurants: he and his Kogi partners opened Chego (tricked-out rice bowls in an intimate strip mall joint in West Los Angeles); and, with business partner David Reiss, he’s opened three restaurants, including the Alibi Room (Kogi’s lone fixed location), A-Frame (a ski-chalet tavern with pan-Asian flair in a former IHOP) and now Sunny Spot.
(Copyed from KoreAm, February 2012, Volume 23, Number 2)