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Great Chef

Roy Choi On Kogi’s First Plant-Based Hot Dog And Summer Grilling Tips

As the master behind the famed Kogi food truck, one of the best outdoor eating establishments in the game (and really, the progenitors of a whole era in food), chef Roy Choi understands what makes the summertime great. It’s about hanging out with your friends, soaking up the heat, and crushing some good food at the park. It’s also about being stylish. So when Choi linked up with plant-based food brand Field Roast to create his first-ever Kogi plant-based hot dog, he brought a baseball-inspired streetwear capsule collection made in collaboration with Shepard Fairey’s Studio Number One along with it.

Dubbed the “Home Run,” the new dog, which will be available from now until late September at the Kogi food truck, is made using Field Roast’s signature Stadium Dog, which is double smoked using maple hardwood chips, and topped with Choi’s famous Kogi slaw, cilantro-onion lime relish, three different types of salsa, roasted sesame seeds, and Chao Creamery’s dairy-free cheese, all inside a toasted bun. The six-piece streetwear collection, which will be exclusively available at the Kogi food truck in Pasadena, California and the Kogi Taqueria in LA between June 26-27, consists of four graphic prints that pay homage to the Field Roast x Kogi partnership across a long sleeve, t-shirt, baseball shirt, and hoodie, along with two caps, stickers, and other branded merch.

Ahead of the launch, we linked up with Chef Roy Choi to talk the challenges of working with plant-based meat, the inspiration behind the new streetwear collection, and his best summer grilling tips. Let’s do the thing.

Field Roast

What kind of challenges did you face crafting the first plant-based hot dog to appear on the Kogi truck?

Well if you look at the history of Kogi we don’t really partner with that many things or endorse that many things, we’re just a low key independent taco truck that got lucky in the right place and the right time and kind of created this phenomenon. So for us, the most important thing is to always be true to our fans and never mislead them on anything. For us at Kogi to get behind something and say “yo this is the most delicious thing ever and we’re going to serve it to you” it has to be something we truly believe in, and Field Roast is a company I truly believe in.

I really love everything about them, from the product to the people to the history to the purpose. I’ve been with them now a little over two years and every product that they create and I’m a part of just gets better and better. This Stadium Dog is the best thing I’ve ever had, as far as plant-based foods go.

What I wanted to do with the Home Run Dog was meet them on that the same level, I wanted everything about the dog to be as delicious as the Stadium Dog itself, and I wanted the whole thing to be cohesive so that when people bite into it it’s not about whether or not its plant-based, it’s about first that it’s delicious, that it’s bomb.

Sometimes you can attempt to do that with a product, but if a product is not meeting you halfway on that then you’re always going to have some weird in-between. You’ve done the best you can but someone takes a bite and it’s like “oh I can still feel the texture in that,” or “I can smell the difference,” or “I can taste a weird aftertaste” there is always that big divide that you’re up against with plant-based food but with the stadium dog it’s seamless and that’s what blew me away.

What are people’s biggest misconceptions about working with plant-based meat? I asked Action Bronson this question and he said something along the lines of stop thinking about it as something separate, at the end of the day it’s just food, and good food has good flavor.

Oh man, Action is the homie and I completely concur! We have to stop making the cautious distinction or separation that this is something totally different, we have to just look at it like it’s another ingredient. You have to trust that the people developing these products have done everything they can to make sure that when you approach them as a cook, your methods to cook anything else that is animal-based can be cooked with the same methods. Whether that’s grilling, searing, poaching, roasting, microwaving whatever the case might be.

If you take all of that out, and the technique and the fundamental approach are the same, you just have to get it out of your psychology that it’s something different or that you can’t add flavor. That there is some sort of sacred sanctity toward it that you can’t overload it with flavor or treat it like you would any other thing that you would cook.

You can still get crazy with it and have fun and a sense of humor. It doesn’t always have to be viewed through this lens of health. You have to look at it like if you’re buying bratwurst for a sour kraut stew that you’re going to turn into hot dogs with five different types of mustards and slaw and all of these different things. You can’t think “well I can’t do that because these are plant-based” you can do the exact same thing you were going to do with the pork sausages but you just do it with the plant-based stuff.

Let’s talk a little bit about the streetwear collection that’s launching alongside this partnership. The collection is being made by Shepard Fairey’s Studio Number One. What was the idea here, what is your personal connection with baseball and that type of fashion aesthetic?

I grew up playing baseball, that’s probably the only sport I was semi-good at. The only problem was that I probably could’ve been better than I was but I got in my own head because I was stubborn. I only wanted to play third base and the problem is, when I was going through my time, the third baseman was a home run hitter, and I was a singles hitter. I could’ve probably moved to a different position on the field, maybe second base or even the outfield, and maybe had a different trajectory in my career as a baseball player, but I was so stubborn that I couldn’t leave third base, but I couldn’t beat this guy, so I sat on the bench and eventually got frustrated and left the game. But it’s something I grew up playing my whole life, I played little league, peewee ball, tee ball, junior high, high school.

The only doodles I used to do growing up were off baseball fields — I use to draw Godzilla inside a baseball field, that was my doodle. I just love going to the parks, my bucket list thing in life is to visit as many ballparks as I can. It’s something that I really love, it’s something my dad use to take me to, it’s one of the connections we have with each other.

As an immigrant family, baseball was one of the things we used to figure out America in many ways. Going to the ballpark, playing baseball on the weekends in the park, going to professional games, having those experiences for the first time. Ordering hot dogs, sitting down, and having a malt ice cream and Cracker Jacks, in many cases they were our first gateway into becoming American. So they hold a special place for me in my life, and I wanted to bring some of those things into this collaboration. Luckily my friend Shepard’s studio did the art, another friend did the positioning of the graphics on the apparel, we just wanted the stuff to feel like something you can buy at a ball game, whatever level of ball game whether it was a minor league game, middle league game, or a pro game. That type of feel.

Field Roast

Let’s start talking about food — What do we need to add to our summer BBQ menu that isn’t getting enough love on the grill?

Vegetables! I don’t think people grill enough vegetables. I’m serious, there are so many vegetables that lend themselves to grilling. Douse them with different sauces, like chili sauce, or vinegars, or different vinaigrettes, I think it just brings a whole new level to someone’s BBQ game. If you can have asparagus, bok choi, kombucha squash, eggplant, zucchini, zucchini flowers, fennel, lettuce, rutabaga, that’s great. Charred lettuce is one of the most amazing things to eat. I think if someone can familiarize themselves with doing whole heads of lettuce or cabbage, and tossing them in a really acidic mustard vinaigrette or a chili sauce-based vinaigrette, I think it’ll do a lot for BBQ. It can’t just always be hot dogs, cold buns, and hamburgers forever.

Can you hit us with an easy off-the-dome marinade we should use for our summertime grilling?

You can never go wrong with soy sauce sesame oil, lime juice, ginger, garlic, scallions, and a little bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. All equal parts, just to make it easy. Purree that up with some chili powder, or jalapeños, and you’ve got a beautiful marinade.

What’s the number one thing people overlook when making an at-home burrito?

The Tortilla is number one. Try to find the best in your own neighborhood and really invest in that. Invest in the time and the care and the purpose and belief that a better tortilla is going to make a better burrito. Heating your tortilla properly is a big part of a great burrito. I think a lot of the time people overlook that part of the process and only focus on the stuff that’s on the inside. But getting the tortilla warm, a little bit of blistering and caramelization, just so you open it up a little bit, it becomes soft and pliable but crispy and warm.

Same thing with a hot dog ya know? The worst thing in the world is having a great hot dog and then the bun is just right out of the bag and it’s just chalky and cold, right? You love it when someone takes the care to actually steam or toast the bun. The whole eating experience as you bite into it is congruent, it has a meaning and a through-line through it all. It’s the same thing with a burrito, you have to think of the outside as much as you do the inside.

As someone who has found great success mixing Korean and Mexican flavors. Can you define where you stand on the difference between remixing styles and cultural appropriation in food?

The difference lies in where you stand with it. On one level you can grow up with it as I did, and you represent it honestly and truly, as the authentic version of yourself, which a lot of us are, we’re this mashup of different cultures that make us American. If you’re just representing that in the most honest truth that you can, then maybe you end up in a situation like me where you can represent a taco and it not be appropriation because it’s a truly authentic expression of who were are in Koreatown. We are a cross-culture balance of different cultures from Central America, Mexico, Korea, all coming together, living together, working together, and growing up together side by side.

Just like slang or pidgin or language, this becomes an expression of who we are. Where it becomes appropriation is when you don’t grow up around it, have no experience around it, or you’re not sensitive or intimate with the relationship to the culture and you use it to better yourself, and you colonize it and minimize its nuance and importance and you use it for your own gain. Poaching and taking pieces, colonizing those pieces and you suddenly become the authority on it, and that’s when it becomes very dangerous.

When you have no ulterior motive, that’s okay, if you look at something like Family Meal [a group meal a restaurant makes to feed its staff after hours], that’s one of the biggest places where this cross-cultural or cross-pollination comes together. Sometimes the Family Meal you’re just raiding the pantry because you’re just cooking whatever it is you can for as many people as you can without using the center of the cut items. You’re getting all the trim, all the vegetable end pieces and scraps, and peels, and you’re using different spices from here and there just trying to create flavor. You’re not thinking “I’m trying to create a Morrocan dish, or an Indian Dish, or a Korean Dish, or a Nigerian Dish” you’re just grabbing flavors and you’re just cooking. And again, that’s because you’re not having any ulterior motives, you’re just trying to feed people.

I think in that scenario it’s always okay, but it does get dangerous when you start poaching and colonizing and you’re using one thing like Gochujang and you’re saying it’s Korean food.

Before we close out, do you have any local LA food spots you want to shout out for the summer?

To me it’s about any small business in LA, I don’t really have a specific I want to shout out but what I always say about LA is try to eat as non-corporate as possible because it’s one of the best cities to do that. If you’re going to eat a hamburger, if you’re going to eat a burrito, or a taco, or a bowl of pasta, or if you’re going to go out and have a steak, whatever it is, there is always an independent neighborhood or young chef-driven or community-based place instead of that corporate choice. Just look it up online and Google whatever it is you’re eating in your neighborhood, and instead of that number one most common denominator choice, go for the one that’s local. ‘Cause in LA we’re known for that, we’re known for our “Mom and Pop’s,” our small businesses, our independent restaurants — that’s who we are, that’s the lifeblood of our culture.