Essays — June 1, 2019 12:02 — 0 Comments

Culinary Change Agent

Below is a story that appeared in Alaska Beyond magazine in June 2019

For Los Angeles–based chef Roy Choi, who is often credited with spearheading the modern high-quality food truck movement, and who has dedicated his life to feeding people of all walks of life, real societal change happens with each basket of produce sold and each plate of food served. Choi’s TV show, Broken Bread, which launched in May, aims to prove this point.

In the show, Choi—who was born in South Korea and grew up in the Los Angeles area—highlights restaurants and organizations that are implementing social progress through increased access to healthy food and kitchen careers.

“This show is about solutions,” says Choi. “It’s not a political show. It’s a show that says there are problems, and you can either choose to believe that or not. But there are people who believe there’s work to be done. And they’re not throwing their hands up and saying things are hopeless.”

Growing up, Choi worked at various businesses belonging to his parents, including a Korean restaurant. His teenage life was marred by vices, such as drugs and gambling, before his love of cooking offered him a second chance. He trained at the Culinary Institute of America in New York and later worked in prominent kitchens, rising to fame in the early 2000s with his groundbreaking Korean taco truck, Kogi (now an LA institution, with multiple trucks and restaurants). Choi documented his past, as well as his love of deliciously humble foods, in the best-selling book L.A. Son (2013). In 2016, he was one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, with his profile written by the late chef Anthony Bourdain.

Choi says the Broken Bread TV series is a culmination of his life’s work that blends many ingredients from his background and showcases opportunities for people who may otherwise not have options for a bright future. Each episode chronicles businesses that work to help people with fresh culinary ideas. The pilot details two LA businesses—Homeboy Bakery and the pizza company Dough Girl—that staff their kitchens with workers who have histories of imprisonment, gang involvement and drug use. Choi notes that hiring these workers creates important opportunities for rehabilitation. And, as documented in the show, this approach helps to save lives.

In another episode, Choi speaks with Olympia Auset, founder of the LA-based company Süprmarkt, a low-cost grocery that provides affordable organic produce in areas that lack healthy food sources. “Seeing how driven she is with organic produce and feeding her community with no real resources—other than herself and friends—inspired me,” says Choi. “Just to see her starting one basket at a time—in this day and age, those things are still powerful. For me, it was one taco at a time.”

Change happens slowly, Choi says, but there are things people can do to help promote a better world through food, such as eating less carbon-intensive meat and creating less food waste. These efforts help ease greenhouse gas output, the chef notes. And being conscious about one’s own dining choices, says Choi, can help push companies to offer healthier food options.

While Broken Bread includes a sobering walk through various societal issues, Choi says that the program is also about another important thing: Love.

“Truly loving and caring for people goes a long way,” says the chef. He recognizes the pressures people are under to be self-reliant and advocates for kindness and generosity. “That’s what I strive for as a chef: to feed everyone who comes into my world,” he says.

New episodes of Broken Bread are airing weekly through June 19 on PBS channel KCET in Southern California. They will continue to be available online at brokenbread.tv, via the KCET app and on the Tastemade TV channel accessed via many major streaming services. The show is co-produced by KCET and Tastemade, a global media company. Visit brokenbread.tv to learn more about the organizations Choi spotlights—with articles, resource guides and recipes.

Bio:

Jake Uitti is a founding editor of The Monarch Review.

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