Chef Roy Choi talks kombucha, recipes and opening Best Friends, interview


Chef Roy Choi is a culinary innovator. Bringing his culinary sensibilities to foodies and food fans, Choi wants to encourage the exploration of flavor and experiences around the table.

Chef Roy Choi has gone from infamous food truck owner to culinary world influencer. While the Los Angeles food scene discovered this chef years again, Choi’s innovative culinary perspective has continued to evolve. Beyond the food, Choi uses his voice to start conversations about food, ingredients and bringing people together around the table.

In today’s volatile world, chefs have a unique, yet powerful voice. Given the fact that these people provide nourishment in the form of a meal, they have the opportunity to influence people beyond the food on their plate. This platform makes chefs quite influential in many ways.

Even though Choi is a classically trained, five star chef, he is best known for his Korean influenced food trucks. Kogi, his company, showed the world that food trucks could have some of the most complex, innovative dishes. The location where food was served doesn’t negate the creativity and deliciousness.

What started as putting a short rib in a taco has evolved into so much more. Choi has, and does, use his platform to introduce, educate and open people’s minds to not just flavor and food but to their communities and each other. Whether it is a person’s first time tasting a fermented food ingredient or listening to others around the table, Choi acknowledges the impact that he, and his fellow chefs, can have on society.

Recently, Roy Choi partnered with Kevita and developed several recipes highlighting kombucha and the brand’s line of beverages. Kevita is company that makes probiotic drinks. With many consumers looking to add probiotics to their diet, these types of beverages are growing in popularity.

Chef Roy Choi for Kevita, photo provided by Kevita

Kombucha is a particular style of fermented, probiotic drink. The Kevita version is “fermented with a kombucha tea culture, contain(ing) billions of live probiotics, organic acids and organic caffeine.” Describing the taste of kombucha is difficult, if not impossible. Yes, there are tea notes, vinegar notes and even a slight sweetness. Every version is different.

Due to his partnership with Kevita, recently I had the opportunity to chat with Chef Roy Choi about kombucha, the recipes he created for Kevita, opening his Las Vegas restaurant Best Friends and his voice as a culinary leader. Below are some of my impressions and thoughts from that conversation.

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  • Since some people might be unfamiliar with kombucha, I asked Chef Choi how he would describe the beverage to the unfamiliar person. He said it is bubbly and healthy, like a Jacuzzi for your gut.

    That curious phrase makes perfect sense. The slightly bubbly mouth feel is instantly invigorating. Plus, the gut health benefits from the fermented qualities are well known. The combination is like revitalizing sip that can wake up your digestive tract.

    Even though more and more people are embracing global flavors and fermented foods, some people are still unsure about this beverage. Although quite enjoyable as a beverage, this drink can be transformed into a recipe.

    In this partnership, Choi created several approachable recipes that can introduce the kombucha flavor without it becoming too overpowering. Choi recommended that people keep trying new flavors and foods. Hints of flavor, small samples and recipe inclusion can evolve into so much more.

    For example, Choi create a recipe using the Kevita Apple Cider Vinegar Tonic Turmeric Ginger in a vinaigrette. This beverage combined with yellow miso and other ingredients was used to dress a spinach salad. Since many people are familiar with these particular flavors, it is a wonderful introduction to the bolder, fermented food flavors.

    Still, this particular recipe can go beyond this one particular application. Choi recommended taking this vinaigrette and seeing how it can be used in other dishes. Starting with the salad, the accompanying recipe is approachable for any home cook. With that confidence and discovery of flavor, the home cook can continue to explore, experiment and grow.

    Ginger Miso Spinach Strawberry Salad, Chef Roy Choi recipe for Kevita, photo provided by Kevita

    Beginning with something familiar sets a tone. People can be more willing to sample new, different or even confusing flavors without prejudice. With that acceptance, they can continue that food journey.

    Choi’s other recipes, like Cali Cauli Adobo Bowl or the Pineapple Peach Kimchi might be two or three steps down the line for the newly adventurous foodie, but they are obtainable. Quality ingredients, clear flavors and tasty dishes will always be on trend.

    As a culinary leader, Choi understands that he has a tremendous platform to both inform and educate. With more and more people having access to information, the food world is a global community.

    30 years ago, my mother might not have cooked with kombucha because it wasn’t common in my grocery store. Today, those traditional Korean fermented foods are available at the local store. Choi feels a sense of responsibility to keep disseminating food knowledge.

    Chefs, like Choi, have a unique platform. He agreed that as a chef, he nourishes people with his food. After talking to Choi, I think that he looks to do more than just feed people’s hunger. I feel that he desires to nourish people’s life journeys.

    Whether it is through his food trucks, these Kevita recipes, food programming or just feeding the hungry, food can bring people to the table to start a conversation. That conversation can lead almost anywhere.

    Looking ahead, Roy Choi is set to open his first Las Vegas restaurant, Best Friends, later this year. The quite unusual name for a restaurant was a conscious choice for the chef. Choi said that the restaurant’s name just makes you smile. Say it yourself and try not to smile.

    In a world full of sameness, this restaurant looks like it will stand out, like Choi himself. There seems to be an ideal of bringing people and food together for a shared experience. Some items might not seem like the most likely pairings, but it will start the conversation and hopefully a memorable experience.

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    I would like to thank both Kevita and Chef Roy Choi for taking the time to speak with me. It was definitely an experience that offered quite a bit of reflection, not just about food but also about the experiences that people share around the table.