by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, illustrated by Man One
Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix is a kid-friendly biography of Roy Choi, a famous food truck chef who was born in Seoul, South Korea. The book recounts how Roy and his family moved to Los Angeles when he was two years old and how his experience as an immigrant influenced his upbringing. His mom made traditional Korean food like kimchi, and bibimbap; her food was so good that Roy’s family opened up their very own restaurant. Roy loved having Dumpling Time at the restaurant, where the whole family would sit down together and fold the dumplings to be cooked later that day. The book discusses how Roy’s parents closed their restaurant and had a more successful life in the jewelry business. Even with this prosperity, Roy felt like more of an outcast without the cultural anchor of the restaurant in his life. He eventually found his place in culinary school and started working in fancy restaurants. After a while, a friend encouraged him to open a Korean taco truck. Roy wanted to “remix the tastes” that were so important to him, combining traditional Korean flavors with dishes that everyone would love. He opened Kogi BBQ Truck, and at first people scoffed at the idea. Eventually, the food truck became very successful, and Roy loved seeing how his food brought diverse people together. Kogi expanded to a whole fleet of food trucks, and Roy even opened a restaurant called Locol in an underserved neighborhood. The book ends with Roy showing other people how to make their own food and cook with sohn-maash, or love.
Man One created the illustrations for this book in an incredibly unique way. He spray-painted canvases to create the backgrounds, then digitally uploaded them. He added in pencil drawings of people and all the landscape details, resulting in vibrant and alluring pictures throughout the book. Even the endpapers show images of ramen noodles, a small detail that really ties into the heart of the biography. I love how the authors included explanations of Korean words and foods that I wouldn’t have otherwise known. This allows them to tell the story in an authentic way, not dumbing it down or “Americanizing” it, while still allowing the reader access to all of the important concepts. I also appreciate that the authors didn’t glorify Roy Choi’s experience. They include parts about how isolated and different he felt, and how he lost his job at a fancy restaurant before opening his food truck. They also mention the doubt, based in racism, that people had of Roy’s idea. The inclusion of “Korean guys can’t do tacos” in the dialogue of the book underscores how stereotypes influence every aspect of our culture, including our thoughts about food. Roy Choi is an honorable person in my eyes; he became very successful and purposefully chose to continue serving people instead of making his food exclusive to the wealthy. He could have easily chosen to open a restaurant with a months-long waiting list, but he decided to make his food accessible to everyone. Roy serves as a great role model for children for a variety of reasons. He overcame the challenges of being different than most people in LA, chose a challenging and unconventional path to follow his passion, and gives back to the community when he is able. Overall, this is a sweet biography of a man who didn’t take no for an answer and persevered until he reached his goal.