I just finished reading Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee and I highly enjoyed it. The cover of the book is very eye-catching with the colors and the graffiti-style illustrations. This book is unlike any other than I’ve read so far in children’s literature and I absolutely loved it. It follows the journey of Roy Choi, a boy who was born in Seoul, Korea, but moved to Los Angeles, California when he was two years old. Roy’s family owned a restaurant called Silver Garden and he remembers the restaurant as his “best good place”—the place where his mom cooked and his family spent time together in the kitchen testing out the food and helping out.
The story then follows as Roy grows older and his family moves out to the suburbs where they opened a jewelry store. Roy’s parents were happier because they were making more money, but Roy was not happy because he felt like he didn’t fit in here like he did in the city—no one in his classes or neighborhood looked like him or had the same snacks as he did. When Roy graduated he was very confused as to what was next for him, and this is depicted brilliantly as the only page in the book that is dark, gloomy, and lacking the vibrant artwork found on the other pages. Roy decides that his fit is in cooking, so off to culinary school he goes! But, he finds that the demands of working in fancy restaurants isn’t for him, and finally Roy finds his true place working as a chef on the Kogi BBQ Truck, serving Kogi food to the people of his city.
One of the first things I have to comment on regarding this book is the illustrations. The fact that Man One chose to complete all of the illustrations are done in graffiti style, an art form that many stereotype as “bad”, “street” or “hoodlum”, is fantastic. Using a medium that comes with such a negative stereotype in a children’s book defies these ideas that graffiti is negative and exposes children, and their parents, to an art form that doesn’t get a lot of positive recognition.
I also love how in the illustrations, Man One chooses to portray people who look different. There is Roy, a Korean-American, who looks like a Korean-American. There is also a guy with bright blue spiky hair and lip piercings that Roy serves in his food truck and it comes off completely natural. Children need this exposure to different types of people because the world is full of people who are different from them, whether it be different ethnicities, skin colors, hair styles, etc. Having lots of different people together and having the characters looking happy and relaxed sticks with children and increases diversity of their thoughts. Getting early exposure to people who look different, choose to dress differently, or have body markings like tattoos or piercings allows children to normalize it and accept it as a fact of life and as good thing! As stated in the book, “Roy saw that Kogi food was like good music, bringing people together and making smiles. Strangers talked and laughed as they waited in line–Koreans with Latinos, kids with elders, taggers with geeks”.
While I believe it is so important that this book follows a Korean man and showcases Korean culture through the food and the language, I do believe that Chef Roy Choi is a book that is relatable to all who read it. Yes, it focuses on a Korean family and mostly Korean food, and it even showcases Korean vocabulary which is extremely important as a window for children to experience a different culture than their own and as mirror for Korean and other Asian-American children to relate to a character in a book that looks like them. However, this book also follows the path everyone faces as they grow up: where do I fit in and what will I do with my life? Roy’s experiences not feeling like he fit in and not being quite sure where his place in the world was is something many children and adults feel which makes the book extremely relatable to anyone who picks it up. The reader is left feeling motivated to cook. The very ending of the story calls for readers to help Roy spread Kogi cooking by by “mixing new dishes, sharing all we can, cooking with sohn-maash and cooking with love”.
By Haley Jones