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At BU, chef Roy Choi gets personal

Posted by Christopher Hughes  November 11, 2013 07:15 PM

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roychoi2resize.jpgOn Friday evening, Boston University hosted Los Angeles resident and Korean-born chef Roy Choi who discussed his new memoir/cookbook, "L.A. Chef: My Life, My City, My Food." Choi is a forerunner of the now popular food truck movement with his Kogi BBQ trucks, which serve Korean tacos -- marinated short rib, cabbage, romaine, lime juice, cilantro, onion, and salsa roja. When the trucks debuted in 2008, they were an immediate hit and publishers were begging Choi to write a cookbook.

"For two-three years I flat out rejected it. I was in no place to write it. I didn't want to confront any of this stuff. All I wanted, to be honest, was for everything to just go away." The "everything" Choi is referring to is his partying past. If he was going to agree to be published, he says, he wanted to do it his way; a memoir that told a complete story through food.

His other stipulations were that he wanted it to be accessible to his family and friends who don't cook. He didn't just want to focus on the successes that have fueled his popularity.

"It's not a Kogi book. It's about how this flavor came about. It's not a book about what I can do as a chef or creating food porn pictures that you roll through and never cook. Sometimes in the food world we only talk about the beautiful things," he says.

"The book was written like Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon.' It's just one long layout. It starts at one point and you go through a story that evolves and changes and leads you somewhere."

One recipe Choi demonstrated at BU was his "Ghetto Pillsbury Fried Doughnuts," his take on traditional Portuguese malasadas. The presentation was simple and delicious: hunks of store-bought Pillsbury biscuit dough fried in shortening and rolled in cinnamon, sugar, and crushed sesame seeds. Choi vacations frequently in Hawaii -- a state with a large Portuguese population -- but this dish means far more to him in the context of his troubled history.

Before the event, Choi relayed a story of having his heart broken by a girl in Providence, then driving to "pre-Giuliani New York," being swindled out of all his money, and bunking with a stranger at a YMCA, where he was introduced to crack cocaine. Choi went into what he calls a "rabbit hole" of addiction, where his only comfort was in simple, but decadent foods like his "Ghetto" malasadas. He explores this and other recipes, such as ketchup fried rice and instant ramen topped with butter and American cheese.

Later in the evening, Choi navigated the spiritual aspects of washing and preparing perfect rice. He also talked about his early life and his mother's cooking, including her braised short rib stew, which he likened to American meatloaf.

"Every person you meet in Korean culture says their mom's Galbi Jjim is the best. This is a really special dish because there are not many dishes that can permeate every square inch and every fabric of your home. Bacon does that. Chocolate chip cookies do that. And Korean short rib stew."


About Dishing

What's cooking in the world of food.


Sheryl Julian, the Globe's Food Editor, writes regularly for the Food section.

Devra First is the Globe's food reporter and restaurant critic. Her reviews appear weekly in the Food section.

Ellen Bhang reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe and writes about wine.

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