Here's L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food by Los Angeles food truck king Roy Choi. Much like Ivan Ramen, Choi's book is mostly narrative, with a sprinkling of recipes. L.A. Son tells the story of Choi's parents moving from Korea and of growing up in L.A. Times were not always easy: his parents had a string of failed businesses (including a Korean restaurant) before settling in the jewelry industry. Choi had his own troubles, including brushes with crime and a pretty gnarly gambling addiction.
But to focus on the grit of Choi's book is to miss the point almost entirely. What is the point, then? Gratitude: gratitude for his family that "pulled [him] back from the brink" more than once, gratitude for the home cooking that helped him feel whole, for the multitudes of cuisines in LA that inspired him, for the restaurants he trained in, for the people who line up around the block for his food trucks. The book is just aching with love for L.A.
Accordingly, very few cookbooks are as personal as L.A. Son. Many try, most fail. Choi's not afraid to include recipes for everything he has ever enjoyed eating, from his mom's kimchi to instant ramen with American cheese on top to recipes he picked up in culinary school to a recipe for a burger from his imaginary burger stand. Choi's not showing off here, he's nurturing. These are mostly recipes for home cooking, for comfort food. This is not a record of his food trucks or restaurants. Those looking for the Secrets of Kogi — including Russ Parsons at the LA Times — are out of luck.
But just because L.A. Son ends where Kogi begins doesn't mean the world will be deprived of the Kogi story (and recipes for its famous Korean tacos). Hopefully, Choi will tackle that book as well at some point. (Please?)
During one of Choi's bad gambling spells, his mom apparently went to a fortune teller, who said:
Don't worry about your son, because he is going to be surrounded by people in a parking lot, in a party, always. Surrounded by smiling faces and warm laughter. He will be there in the party and at the center somewhere.With this book, Choi's party just got a hell of a lot bigger. Do not be surprised when this thing gets optioned for a movie.
L.A. Son was written with Tien Nguyen and Natasha Phan. Photos were done by Bobby Fisher. It's out from Anthony Bourdain's line of Ecco books now (order on Amazon). Take a look: