On a bench outside Handsome Coffee Roasters in downtown Los Angeles' arts district, after the requisite coffee inside and under the (also requisite) California sun, Roy Choi sat down late last week to talk about, well, lots of things. He wanted a cigarette, or a few of them. He wanted to be close to the L.A. River. It had been a long few days, with a post Choi wrote on his blog Riding Shotgun generating a sudden media storm (Eater, The Huffington Post, even The New Yorker) of speculation that he was giving up meat, giving up Kogi, giving up cooking altogether.
All this left Choi (Kogi, Chego, A-Frame, Sunny Spot, the world), he said, humbled. It also seems to have left him a bit baffled. By the perceived controversy, but also -- and more interestingly -- by the level of emotion and influence he can generate in his hometown. Choi has become, for reasons that still escape him, a pivotal figure in Los Angeles, both in the food world and beyond. Most people date the current food truck revolution to his Kogi BBQ truck, but it's more than that. He is, to quote Dana Goodyear, our David Chang. He has revitalized the industry, given voice -- and menu -- to a moment, and mobilized both literally and metaphorically the food culture in L.A. All this has left him having what might be described as an existential crisis. Or maybe it's just a moment of clarity, the thinking man's necessary response to hitting critical mass. Maybe we should all sit down, get a cup of coffee and a cigarette -- or a Sriracha bar -- and think about what's going on more often than we do..