From The Intelligent Optimist
Roy Choi created his unique culinary brand, exemplified by his Korean-Mexican taco establishment Kogi BBQ, by blending parts of Los Angeles that don’t typically intermingle: organic and liquor store ingredients, street food and West L.A. sleek, immigrant grandpas and Venice Beach yoga mamas all converging at his restaurants’ communal lines and tables.
Now the world-renowned chef is using that same methodology to inspire social change, bringing his gourmet cuisine—and jobs—to the urban areas ignored by the haute cuisine crowd. The chef has partnered with Bay Area–based Michelin star chef Daniel Patterson to create an ambitious restaurant project that aims to serve up healthy, affordable and innovative fast food to impoverished communities.
In a MAD Symposium talk in Copenhagen in 2013, Choi explained his impetus to take chef-driven food to the inner city. “Everyone in politics tried to fix everything on a macro level … but my brothers and sisters are starving on the street. … We’re feeding kids chemicals that are corrosive. … The food world has never been more active … but aren’t we still just feeding the same people, the privileged? … I’m sick and tired of it. For me it’s about shifting paradigms.” Patterson was in the audience and introduced himself to Choi, and at the following year’s MAD conference they announced their joint venture, LocoL.
The pair’s plan isn’t just about putting food in hungry bellies; it’s also enlisting the residents to challenge corporate processed fast-food dominance by appreciating and enjoying healthy, delicious and creative alternative fast food. Choi and Patterson’s genre-bending menu features a $4 cheeseburger slathered with scallion relish, a $6 beef chili bowl or noodle bowl spiked with ginger and lime, or a bulgur salad brightened with green goddess dressing. Breakfast items include yogurt and granola or fresh fruit for $3. Drinks are $1.
LocoL’s first restaurant opened in Watts, Los Angeles, where nearly 40 percent of residents live below the poverty line. The café employs 50 people from the community. Celebrities like Lena Dunham joined locals at its Martin Luther King Day opening this year, where lines snaked around the block and MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech blasted over loudspeakers. An estimated 2,000 people were fed that day.
Locations are slated to open in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, Uptown Oakland and East Oakland, plus a second address in Watts. The ultimate plan? A nationwide fast-food revolution. | Sara Beladi | FIND OUT MORE: welocol.com