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Anthony Bourdain & Roy Choi on Fine Dining, Authenticity, and Messing With the Classics

Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

Last night at powerHouse Arena in Brooklyn, Anthony Bourdain hosted a public conversation with LA food truck king Roy Choi to celebrate the launch of Choi's book L.A. Son, the latest from Bourdain's Ecco imprint. In the conversation, Choi discussed authenticity and his MAD talk about food desserts while Bourdain spoke about shifts in the fine dining customer base and the importance of chefs learning the classics. Bourdain also touched on the "celebrity chef problem" and both he and Choi weigh in on Emeril Lagasse. Speaking of his famous Kogi BBQ truck, Choi says: "You can make great food, reduce your profits a little bit and then provide food that's approachable by all." Below, the best quotes from their conversation:

· Roy Choi, on including memoir and recipes in L.A. Son: "The reason why I mashed the two together is that I wanted to people to cook. I felt like since the whole book is written in the frame of mind of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" album, like just one long play no tracks, I felt like if you read the chapters and then went through it, if in the afterglow of the chapter you had some recipes, in that afterglow you could cook the recipes in that state of mind which hopefully I shared with you ... I think the recipes are like a punctuation point to the story."

· On Emeril Lagasse:
Bourdain: "Particularly in light of the celebrity chef world post-Emeril, he looks better and better with every passing day..."
Choi: "...I wasn't a chef or cook before that. Emeril, to me, was non-threatening, and I was around a lot of threatening dudes ... He would be talking to you, inviting you to cook. I was at a low point in my life. I had gone through two deep addictions: addiction to alcohol and addiction to gambling ... I was at that point, laying on the couch, watching the TV, and he was on and I don't know man, it started to get metaphysically weird. He came out of the TV and grabbed me and was like 'What the f*ck are you doing, man? What the f*ck are you doing? Smell this, taste this. Why are you such a dickhead?' and grabbed me and shook me. And I kind of woke up and he was back in the TV ... It kind of woke me up."

· On Roy Choi's talk at the MAD Symposium:
Bourdain: "Everybody's there, absolutely the cream of the chef group. The best chefs from all of the world, the most forward-thinking. Basically you're invited to talk, and you walk out there and basically said 'I just want to tell you guys that you're basically just sucking your own dicks.' That's pretty much what you said, right?"
Choi: "Yeah, I did say that ... As soon as they gave me the theme [guts], all I could think about were the people in my life who don't eat the food that we're cooking. So then I looked at all the chefs and was like 'Who the f*ck do you think you all are? We think we're the best, that we have the best food in the world, but we're not sharing that with a lot of people.' It really came down to accessibility and affordability, and also relevance. Really challenging the chefs in the room, not in a confrontational way, just really challenging the chefs in the room to think about how many people we feed in a day, how affordable our food is, and what that means in the division in our societies."

· Choi, on chefs: "We're not looking to shank you, we're looking to feed you."

· Choi, on the origins of his restaurant A-Frame: "I wasn't treated the best going into restaurants. There was one experience that kind of sparked A-Frame, where I took my crew to the Beverly Hills Hotel to the Polo Lounge to congratulate them. The whole crew is Latino, and we went up there, they got all dressed up and everything and you know, like, they didn't even want us in the space. I just felt like, when I create my first restaurant I would create a space where as soon as you walk in the door — no matter where you came from — you would be welcome and you could afford it."

· Bourdain, on who goes to fine dining restaurants: "There are the usual despots and oligarchs sitting there, ordering the $15,000 bottle of wine and they eat lunch there three times a week. But you're starting to see; No, for some time you've seen, and chefs have had to react to, essentially the hipster who cannot afford, a young person — I call everybody a hipster who's younger than me now, I really have to get over this — basically people who cannot afford to eat at Le Bernardin eat at Le Bernardin. They save their money. There's an entire strata of society who, when I was that age, would be spending that disposable income on cocaine, or films, or other stuff."

· Choi, on the Kogi BBQ Taco Truck: "I think there's a flaw in the chain system of the purveyors, the products, and the commerce of it: the better things get, the more expensive they get. That to me is a model I don't fully understand ... That's what I'm trying to shift with the Kogi truck. You can make great food, reduce your profits a little bit and then provide food that's approachable by all."

· Choi, on authenticity: "Eddie [Huang]'s got his anger towards things. I'm from Cali, I smoke weed so I don't get as angry as Eddie, but props to him for fighting for that sh*t ... Any Asian kid in America knows we have to live double lives, we had our food at home and then you had to go and live the American life. For me, the thing about authenticity, I don't have that same angle as Eddie on that. For me, it's just about representing more of a micro-authenticity of where you're from. So for me I'm from Los Angeles and Orange country. I grew up around a lot of different people, and I'm Korean but I don't speak Korean and I'm Asian but when I look in the mirror I think I see a Latino dude. I don't know, I'm all mixed up. So when I look at authenticity, that whole mixed up thing of who I am is my authenticity. But it's tough to have the confidence — and this book helped me with that — to have the confidence to create that food."

· On whether chefs need to learn the classics:
Bourdain: I feel very strongly that you should know what a coq au vin is before you start riffing in a post-ironic way on the coq au vin.
Choi: My chef side and my adult side is always saying you should learn all this before you start messing with it ... To me as a chef it matters, but then as a person outside of the kitchen you know the guy might be on to something else and you need to give him the opportunity to figure it out and maybe he'll figure it out along the way. But as a chef, I am against people riffing on stuff until they know it.

· Choi, on having an "obligation" to Korean cuisine: "I don't feel like I need to protect the motherland from culinary invasion ... But the great thing about Korean food is it like regenerates itself to save itself. Korean cuisine is resilient."

· All Anthony Bourdain Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Roy Choi Coverage on Eater [-E-]