'We're in the middle of a street food rennaissance, and we're all much happier for it,' said food critic Jonathan Gold at yesterday's Worlds of Flavor, referring to the proliferation of food trucks in Los Angeles and across the USA.
A major driver of that rennaissance has been what Gold referred to as the 'new wave' of trucks that take their inspiration from trucks selling tacos, tamales, and sandwiches traditionally run by Mexican and Latin American immigrants. And probably the best known 'new wave' truck of all is Roy Choi's brainchild Kogi, a Korean BBQ taco truck (actually four trucks, now) that ply the streets of LA, alerting customers of their location via Twitter.
Roy is a CIA-trained chef who, as he tells it, only realized his potential when he stopped trying so hard to be a successful classically-trained chef and started his taco truck. He's a great speaker and fascinating to watch in action. Yesterday we sat in on his demo in the CIA kitchen, and tasted one of Kogi's famous tacos (yes, it is that good). I had originally intended to nail him down for an interview, but Roy is so forthcoming with bon mots that cushioning them in a lot of narrative would be like icing an already frosted cake.
Here, instead, is Roy uncensored, on tacos, community, street food, and other topics. I leave the interpretation to you.
"To cook great street food a chef has to get past his ego."
On what Kogi is about: "We really try to pay homage to the Mexican street taco."
On Korean cuisine: "Take your classical training, just take that sh*t and throw it in the trash."
(His example here was the vinaigrette: "As a chef I learned that that you whisk till emulsified. Look at my vinaigrettes here -- they're all broken.")
On how to cook street food: "Everything is by feel, by hand, by touch. My goal here (Roy was mixing the salad garnish for his Kogi taco at the time) is that every single bite has ll the flavors, all of the complexities of the dish. All of the joy and sorrows of your life in one bite."
On the importance of using the right tortillas: "I HATE [insert brand name tortilla supplied by CIA kitchen here], by the way. They have no puff, no flexibility. They taste like cardboard."
On what he's looking for when he makes Kogi's Blackjack Quesadilla (filled with black pork and jack cheese): "I want to achieve a state of existence just like a beautiful Neopolitan pizza. You know, it's just a quesadilla, but we put a lot of love into it."
On why, despite its popularity, Kogi still sells its tacos for $2 each: "Street food needs to be cheap. Why? Because it needs to be fluid with the rest of your life."
On what's great about street food: "Street food makes you slow your life down."
On whether or not street food can be successfully cooked and served in a restaurant setting: "Street food can be served in a stationary place, but your heart and your spirit has to be moving."
On the fact that most Americans -- particularly those in positions of authority in various municipalities -- don't yet understand what street food is all about: "We [Kogi] get treated like we're selling crack! It's just a taco."
On possible expansion plans for Kogi: "I don't want to go to other cities to conquer them. But I would like to go to other cities to spread the love."