Despite graduating as speaker of his class from the renowned Culinary Institute of America, and holding positions in prestigious establishments such as Le Bernardin in New York City, Choi was not at home in the world of fine dining. Indeed, it was not until Kogi took off that Choi really came into his own as a chef. He was named one of Food and Wine's Best New Chefs in 2010, and Kogi has been featured in publications as diverse as the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and Giant Robot magazine, and has earned mentions on the BBC and even at a recent TED conference.
Whether cooking in a five-star kitchen or selling food out of a shopping cart, Choi believes what matters most is dedication and resourcefulness. "A lot of that comes from an immigrant background: taking what you have, making it the best you can, and living a better life. I had a truck, no job, a few thousand bucks; and we did the best we could."
Perhaps the clearest indicator of Choi's success to date is the number of trucks around the country with similar concepts. There's Chi'Lantro in Austin, Taco Chino in Chicago, West Coast Tacos in Indianapolis, and Kimchi Taco Truck in New York City. By and large, most of these purveyors of Korean tacos credit Kogi with sparking the trend, but Choi shrugs off the hype. "It would be selfish to be caught up in the movement," he says.
Despite the proliferation of such trucks, neither Choi nor Kogi show any signs of slowing down or burning out. This is, typically, what separates a trend from a revolution.
Published by permission of The Vilcek Foundation, © 2011. The Vilcek Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring the contributions of foreign-born artists and scientists to the United States. Learn more at www.vilcek.org.
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