Although he’s most famous for kick-starting the modern food truck movement in Los Angeles with the Kogi truck a decade ago, two things come to mind when I think of Chef Roy Choi:
The first is the end credits to Jon Favreau’s 2014 movie Chef, where a bit of b-roll shows Choi (who served as a Co-Producer on the film and advised Favreau on how to look and act like a chef) making a grilled cheese sandwich with such care and attention that at one point he declares that in the moment that he’s making it, the sandwich should be the only thing that exists.
The second is the episode of Top Chef (it was the New Orleans season) when Choi became the best quickfire judge in history by going off-script when, instead of being diplomatic with his feedback like every other judge, he proclaimed to the chefs bluntly: “Ya’ll fucked this shit up.”
Say what you will about Roy Choi, but you can’t say he isn’t authentic.
That authenticity is evident in Choi’s new documentary series Broken Bread, which opens with a flyover shot of Los Angeles, the downtown skyline in the distance, beautiful and inviting, suggesting a promise of culinary adventure like so many other chef-driven food and culture shows.
But the next images bring things down to street level, where homeless tents line the sidewalks, and Choi’s narration explains that this is not going to be an ordinary food and culture show that sanitizes the subject in service of food porn but rather one that explores some of the struggles facing Los Angeles, and highlights the people who are using food not just to feed, but also to help their community.
In the premiere episode (“Transformation”), he focuses on Father Greg Boyle’s Homeboy Industries, a non-profit that trains and hires ex-gang members for a number of businesses (including a bakery and café), and Mar Diego’s Dough Girl, an LA pizzeria where Diego hires (and at times, houses) local at-risk youth.
This notion of using food to give back to the community is a natural area of interest for Choi, who himself partnered with chef Daniel Patterson three years ago to found LocoL, a fast food restaurant whose mission was, in part, to bring jobs and better food options to underserved neighborhoods (after two and a half years, LocoL’s retail operations ended, but it remains in business as a catering service). If anything, Broken Bread seems like an extension of the same mission that drove Choi to open LocoL in the first place — a desire to use his platform to help in whatever way he can.
One danger of a show like this, of course, is that even with the best intentions, it could easily end up becoming a vanity project. But that doesn’t seem likely to happen here. While Choi is the host and face of the show, he doesn’t make himself the focus — this may be Roy Choi’s show, but crucially, it never becomes The Roy Choi Show — and the best moments are those where we get to learn with him about the people and causes (and, yes, delicious-looking food) that we might otherwise miss as we drive past. The problems highlighted are vast and systemic and can feel overwhelming. And yet, in sharing these stories, Choi shows that there is hope, that there are people out there fighting the good fight (even if we don’t see them all the time), and that maybe there are some problems that can be solved with food.
Future episodes explore issues like food deserts, waste, and adapting to climate change, and if this episode is any indication, it will ultimately be an informative, optimistic (and occasionally mouth-watering) ride.
…and also, right below!
Header Image Source: KCET/Tastemade