Chef Roy Choi and The Street Food Remix

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Chef Roy Choi and The Street Food Remix


by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, illustrated by Man One

Age Range: 6-12 years
Hardcover: $18.95, ISBN 978-0983661597

Pub Date: May 2017

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Chef Roy Choi calls himself a “street cook.”
He wants outsiders, low-riders,
kids, teens, shufflers and skateboarders,
to have food cooked with care, with love,
with sohn maash.

"Sohn maash" is the flavors in our fingertips. It is the love and cooking talent that Korean mothers and grandmothers mix into their handmade foods. For Chef Roy Choi, food means love. It also means culture, not only of Korea where he was born, but the many cultures that make up the streets of Los Angeles, where he was raised. So remixing food from the streets, just like good music—and serving it up from a truck—is true to L.A. food culture. People smiled and talked as they waited in line. Won't you join him as he makes good food smiles?

Jacqueline Briggs Martin, author of the Caldecott Medal winner, Snowflake Bentley as well as Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table, and Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious continues her "Food Heroes" series with Chef Roy Choi on people who change what and how we eat. Together with food ethnographer June Jo Lee and graffiti art pioneer Man One, they bring an exuberant celebration of street food and street art.

See co-author Jacqueline Briggs Martin’s other “Food Heroes” books: Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table and Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious

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• Robert F. Sibert Informational Award Honor Book
• Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People 2018, NCSS
• Orbis Pictus Award Honor Book for Outstanding Nonfiction 2018, NCTE
• Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List, 2018-2019
• Junior Library Guild Selection  
• "CCBC Choices,” Cooperative Children's Book Center
• “Starred” reviews, School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly

*Starred Review* “In clipped verse that draws on the rhythms of hip hop the authors follow Choi from the launch of his Kogi food trucks to his efforts to “’feed good food create worthy jobs and bring smiles’ to ‘hungry’ parts of the city. Man One’s layered graffiti-style artwork mimics the narrative’s energy and Choi’s commitment to ‘cooking for everyone.’” 
—Publishers Weekly

*Starred Review* “Spicy, sweet colorful tangy—all the words that authors Martin and Lee use to describe Roy Choi’s Korean Mexican cuisine apply just as accurately to the book they’ve created along with L.A. street artist Man One… Choi’s dedication to bringing wholesome flavorful fast food to low-income neighborhoods is reflected in every word and stroke of this colorful book… If you’re not hungry already this savory array of sizzling words and art will make your mouth water. VERDICT This excellent picture book biography about an inventive chef doing good belongs on all shelves.”
—School Library Journal     

“This is one of the most exciting picture book biographies of the year. Come for the ramen endpapers. Stay for the killer story and art.”
―Fuse #8 Production blog, School Library Journal                                

"The third installment in the Food Heroes series presents Roy Choi and the Los Angeles street-food scene. Breezy text and lively illustrations invite young readers and cooks into the world of the food revolution happening across the country… Man One's graffiti-art style is the perfect complement to Choi's cooking and the lively LA street scene… A vibrant, life-affirming tribute to a chef and his city."
―Kirkus Reviews

"With street-art-inspired illustrations, Martin and Lee tell the story of Roy Choi, a Korean American chef who combined his favorite flavors―his mother’s home-style Korean food and the street food of L.A.―into a culinary revolution… Man One’s graffiti-like artwork, filled with stylized figures, neon colors, and paint splatters, emphasizes Choi’s urban origins as well as the dynamic, multicultural environment that inspired his particular brand of fusion. With an energetic message of thinking outside the box, this lively picture-book biography will give kids plenty to savor."

“Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix is like a short-rib taco served straight from the truck--inspired, unexpected, and just so good. Roy is a reflection of his city--its creativity, its diversity, its possibility. This book is a must read for all chefs, aspiring chefs, and those of us who know the best recipes are coming out of LA.”
―Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti

"A fascinating story and incisive text are matched perfectly with art whose energy jumps off the page. Bursting with flavor and color, this book is a FEAST!"
―Linda Sue Park, New York Times bestselling author, Newbery Medal winner, and first-generation Korean-American

"Every time I re-read this book, it makes me happier… One of the main ingredients for this LA-connected book is street art turned into book art by Man One. Don’t miss the authors’ and illustrator’s notes in this book. They will have your students wanting to know more about these talented book creators… This is a book filled with so much respect for readers, eaters, and kids with aspirations… it’s completely satisfying."

"Bold graffiti and staccato writing are just right for this Korean American foodie, proponent of fusion and inclusion.”

—San Francisco Chronicle

“Killer art accompanies the true to life picture book biography of Roy Choi, the man who brought high end cuisine and street food together so that everybody could have an equal chance to eat. Special Bonus: Ramen endpapers.”

—Evanston Public Library’s 101 Great Books for Kids List

From School Library Journal

“K-Gr 3-Martin teams up with coauthor Lee and graffiti artist Man One to share Roy Choi's journey. Choi learned about cooking from his parents, restaurateurs in Los Angeles. Calling his parents' restaurant the "best good place," Choi loved making food alongside them-and especially loved eating it surrounded by friends and family. He eventually attended cooking school and became a sought-after chef. But the kitchen grind wore him down, and he left it all behind to instead serve kogi (Korean short rib) tacos out of a food truck in L.A. With the success of his food truck, Choi opened a series of cafes in low-income neighborhoods to ‘feed good food, create worthy jobs, and bring smiles.’ The bulk of the text is engagingly read by the illustrator Man One. It's a refreshing change of pace for the illustrator to narrate, and in this case, it's a natural choice because of his closeness to the subject as well as his background as a commercial and movie actor. Informative, interesting, and lengthy authors' and illustrator's notes are read on a separate track by the authors and illustrator.

“VERDICT: This unconventional picture book biography with a talented cast of creators is an appealing audio offering.” — Jennifer Verbrugge, State Library Services, Roseville, MNα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

"Review of the Day" (5/17/2017) Fuse #8 Production blog, School Library Journal 

A kid walked up to my Reference Desk. Looked me square in the eye. Said, “I need a biography…” “Sure thing!” I chirruped. That’s an easy request. We’ve biographies galore in the library, after all. Surely one would please this customer. Yet the little guy just shook his head and continued, “I need a biography . . . about someone who isn’t dead.” Ah. That. Sure, we were able to load him down with a fair number of books (and didn’t he look happy when we did!) but the question stung. Why are publishers so consistently putting out biographies of dead people? I understand how hard it is to convey a person’s life work when they themselves are capable of doing even bigger and better things in the future. Yet when a picture book biography is done, and done well, there’s only one word for it: magic! And “Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix” taps into that magic space very well. Very well indeed.

Born in Seoul, Korea to loving family, Roy Choi moved to L.A. when he was only two. There he grew to love his mother’s cooking, but when the family moved into a pricier neighborhood, young Roy was cast adrift. He spent years trying to find his path. At last, Roy was inspired to become a chef, and not just any chef. With much practice he was a rousing success. He made food for movie stars. He made food for thousands of eaters. But even the fanciest job can wear you down. In time, Roy needed to reconnect with eaters. So he and partner started a fleet of food trucks that would mix element of Mexican and Korean food. Trucks that stared out in high residential neighborhoods now serve neighborhoods that don’t get a lot of attention. And Roy, in many ways, is now the people’s chef.

It makes me happy to think that Jacqueline Briggs Martin was one of the brains behind this book. She has loads of talent on display, after all. For example, it’s so interesting to watch how Briggs conveys the passage of time and huge life events with as few words as possible. Just admire, for a moment, the succinct beauty of these four sentences:

“Neighborhood changed. Restaurant closed.
Parents’ new jewelry business. Big house in the ‘burbs.”

That’s tight, to the point, and eschews unnecessary, time-consuming text. Instead, you have everything you need to know in one quick, tidy little package.

I was talking with an author of nonfiction the other day about fake dialogue in children’s nonfiction picture books. As a librarian, I hate the stuff. It feels like a cheap way to write nonfiction for kids. Her perspective was similar but different. As she put it, she would LOVE to fictionalize aspects of one subject’s life, or another. But that’s the problem. You can’t be inauthentic just because it’s the easy way to go. As I read through Briggs’ book, this conversation came back to me. Briggs has been in the picture book nonfiction game longer than most. She’s no fresh-faced newbie but rather an expert with experience tucked away under her belt. As such, she can include factual information that could potentially derail her thesis and present it in a clever manner. One example of this that comes to mind is the moment when Chef Choi is offered the chance to open a Korean barbecue taco truck. Since Choi is the hero of our story it would be the easiest thing in the world to let the reader assume that the truck was his idea in the first place. Alas Briggs doesn’t credit his partner by name in the text. To find that out you have to go to the Bibliography in the back and find the L.A. Times article, “Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson try to start a healthful fast-food revolution in Watts with Locol.”

Yet Ms. Martin is not the sole author on this book. Equal billing is credited to one June Jo Lee. I wondered why. Surely Ms. Briggs Martin was capable of a stand up and cheer job solo, right? So I read through both of their Authors’ Notes to get a sense of the publisher’s thought process. As it happens, Ms. Lee was born in the 1970s in South Korea, much as Roy was. She also attended elementary school in California when he did, and she takes pains to explain how changes in the 1965 immigration laws were responsible for their families’ moves. Though her note does not specify why Ms. Lee was brought on to the project, Ms. Martin’s does. Jacqueline mentions that “June Jo Lee generously shared as much information about Korean food, as well as many insights into Korean culture, and spoke movingly of the challenges of being a first generation Korean in America.” So much so that she is no mere consultant but a full co-author with everything that that entails.

The “remix” as a teaching tool is a relatively new idea, even as the actual concept is as old as civilization itself. Whether your child attends a progressive school, a public one, a charter school, or any other, you’re going to find an increased attention on the educational benefits of encouraging children to mix, match, meld, melt, and generally combine disparate but complementary elements into something entirely new. Finding books for a remix curriculum, however, can be just as tricky. I’ve been pleased to see a rise in “maker” culture in our children’s literature, but for whatever reason insufficient praise has been lauded upon those remix geniuses of history. Roy may deal in street food, but as author June Jo Lee says in her Author’s Note, “This mix of flavors reflects the new America today.” Adult readers that encounter this will find it difficult not to extrapolate further, knowing all too well that there are people here in America that would find such mixes highly disturbing because of what they imply. For my own part, I wanted to include some readalikes in this review of other books that show off fascinating contemporary remixes for kids. Shockingly few come to mind.

There’s also a very real economic message behind Chef Choi’s story. One of the first things you read about him in this book is that “He’s cooked in fancy restaurants, for rock stars and royalty. But he’d rather cook on a truck,” and then, “He wants outsiders, low-riders, kids, teens, shufflers, and skateboarders to have food cooked with care, with love, with sohn-maash.” Now here’s where it gets tricky. The one thing you do NOT want to do with a book like this is to pain Roy as some kind of food truck savior, bringing his greatness to the little people below. The book is refreshingly devoid of pity for the working class. It’s businesslike in its story. As it says, Roy and Chef DP opened in lower-income neighborhoods to, “feed good food, create worthy jobs, and bring smiles.”

The idea to give the job of illustration to a graffiti artist is not new, but this may be its most successful application. Man One only met Roy Choi when the Kogi trucks were first taking off, but he’s been a strong supporter from the start. In this book, he incorporates a lot of mixed media, as well as a tagging style, to distinguish Roy’s tale from the pack. As a result you’ll see things like blank cassette tapes serving as a seemingly white background on the cover, ramen endpapers, and blank stickers “that are commonly used in street art” alongside the cooking poems of the book. Interestingly, Man One is strongest not when he’s depicting people (faces give him a particular bit of trouble) but angles, new perspectives, energy, color, life, and vitality. In his Illustrator’s Note at the book’s end he says that, “I tried to give the viewer a little taste of the unique landscape that exists in L.A.”. So that’s another thing. I have never, ever, in all my livelong days seen a book praise Los Angeles as seriously and unrepentantly as Man One does here. This isn’t just an ode to Chef Roy Choi. It’s a love letter to his city as well.

Even if books featuring an array of different kinds of remixes never increase in numbers, at least kids have this one. Visually peppy with a message that deserves to be heard by people of all economic backgrounds, this is one of those nonfiction picture books I can hand to any librarian or child and walk away knowing they'll love it as much as I do. No matter who you are or how much you have, you can make an impact in the world around you. Roy did. And what’s more, his impact has been noticeably delicious. Great good stuff, all around.

For ages 5-10.