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Around Town: Take a seat at the other La Cañada's table

January 08, 2014|By Anita S. Brenner

When I think about Roy Choi, I miss my friend, Laura Canales.

Choi is the Korean-American, Los Angeles chef who reinvented the food truck with his gourmet Kogi BBQ Korean taco trucks. He is the author of “L.A. Son,” a thoughtful cookbook/autobiography.

Laura was a La Cañada Flintridge resident, past president of the Thursday Club and gourmet home-fusion chef. As a Greek American, Laura knew feta, tiropitakia and mint like the back of her hand. When she married into the Canales family, her culinary repertoire skyrocketed. She studied French cooking, became a top-notch baker and was locally famous for her pâte à choux. She managed to reconcile these different cultures.

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In the early 1980s, we noticed new changes in our local markets. Ralphs West, then located at the Ross Dress For Less site, began to carry pre-cut meat and poultry.

“That’s weird,” I said to Laura. “Why would anyone pay more to buy a cut-up chicken? It’s better to buy a whole chicken, uncut.”

Laura said, “This is a trend. According to market projections, within 10 years, you’ll see more pre-cut and even pre-prepared foods.”

Fast forward to Trader Joe’s in 2014. Laura was right. The Trader Joe’s freezer section even has Kimchi Fried Rice. Incredulous? Why would anyone buy pre-prepared Kimchi Fried Rice from Trader Joe’s instead of making it from scratch, when Lotte Market is right down the street?

The answer clearly lies with Roy Choi, a Los Angeles chef who brought Los Angeles Korean food into the mainstream and planted it into the minds of hipsters and yuppies alike. One of his restaurants is in Culver City, also home to the Blind Barber bar. Coming from the Foothills, my favorite is Chego East in Downtown Los Angeles. I cannot imagine a world without Choi’s Kung Pau Noodle Bowl (jjamppong noodles with baby bok choy, chilies, garlic soy paste, lemon grass and Thai basil for $8.)

Laura would have loved the whole L.A. Korean scene. If she were alive today, she’d be explaining naengmyeon (cold buckwheat noodles) and Dak galbi (marinated stir-fried chicken). Just as we joked about “tacos, lox and cream cheese” and “bagels and beans,” we’d invent ways to marry kosher bulgogi (BBQ beef) with kosher posole (hominy and chicken stew).

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