In the eyes of revolutionary chef Roy Choi, food is about more than just cooking. It’s about feeding the soul. It’s about feeding the people. Wherever they live, whoever they are, wherever they stay, all over L.A. Bringing more eyes and ears to the issues around food has become Choi’s mission, which is why he is the new host of a new social-minded original food series produced by KCETLink and Tastemade called “Broken Bread,” slated for broadcast in early 2019.
“As the title suggests, we are going to take a look at the broken systems in our country and take off to find the good people on the ground doing things about changing those systems. A quest for goodness. A place where we can highlight amazing people doing amazing things,” says Choi, “There will be humor, music, tears, challenges, poetry, love, and action. A show with a lot of food; but not necessarily a food show. It’s time and the time is now.”
Choi’s passion is not only fueled by his explosive success in food, but also his immigrant background where he witnessed his parents hustling. “We moved a lot and we did a lot of things to survive,” says the perennially baseball-capped Choi in an interview with Reason.
He’s also no stranger to L.A.’s many subcultures: the low-riding community, the skate community, the stoner-drug community, the gang community and the college community. “I’ve been through a lot of things in my life. It’s humbling,” says Choi on L.A. Weekly, “Because no one ever gave a shit about me before. So for people to give a shit about you, it's humbling and it means a lot.”
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The many worlds he’s witnessed and lived through has helped him become a compassionate chef, who looks beyond the restaurant walls into the harsh realities of the world beyond. “I believe that chefs are maternal,” Choi says while on stage at MAD in Copenhagen, a symposium of the world’s top-tier movers and shakers in the food world. “We feed people. Our nature is to care and take care of people.” That urge doesn’t cease once economic boundaries are drawn either, Choi feels strongly about the power of food to change the world. He knows he’s able to accomplish it too.
In 2008, he and his crew of friends and family started the street food revolution from behind the Kogi BBQ truck. Droves of people lined up to get a taste of his Korean-Mexican-inspired fare. From there, Choi went on to reinvent the rice bowl, redefine the communal table experience, flip the model on bar food and upend the staid hotel experience. He’s fed people on almost every street in sprawling Los Angeles, yet he says it isn’t enough. “After all we had done [with Kogi BBQ], food wasn’t even close to them,” said Choi, referring to the people of South Central Los Angeles, where conditions are worse now than it was after the L.A. riots.
After an emotional breakdown, where he reflected on the futility of the past quarter-century (“I was there in ’92 and I’m here now,” he writes, “walk through South L.A., through the empty pockets of our youth, through the bedrooms of the abused, through the universe of Los Angeles street on Skid Row. I don’t get the punch line and that shit ain’t funny.”) he worked side by side with Thomas Jefferson High School students to develop and sell a fruit cup. “We just started doing fruit cups. We helped the kids build a café. We taught the kids Economics 101, marketing; helped with the flavor profiles and made a proposition to their friends: to buy this fruit cup with coconut milk, agave, fruit and lime juice for $1.” It was a challenge, considering the kids were eating plastic-sealed burgers, chocolate milk and candy, but in the end, community-run cafes serving smoothies popped up next to liquor stores and fast food joints.
Since then, Choi has proven he can be an outspoken voice for how food can make a difference in people’s lives. “Broken Bread” is his medium to explore the Hydra-headed issues of food and how people can be part of the solution. His explorations will be shared across the country and online on KCETLink.
“As longtime admirers of Roy Choi, KCETLink is thrilled to be working with him on 'Broken Bread,'” said Juan Devis, Chief Creative Officer, KCETLink Media Group. “Choi brings social consciousness to food culture in a fresh, personal and unexpected way capturing the essence of Los Angeles and its people.
“People are hungry for this type of content,” said Oren Katzeff, Tastemade’s head of programming. “It’s thrilling to work with KCETLink and explore how people are innovating new approaches to create a better world through food. We can’t think of a better person than Roy Choi to help shape this narrative with us and continue impacting communities in California and beyond.”
Top Image: Kogi food truck | Ted Soqui/Corbis via Getty Images