Review: Chef Roy Choi

“Trying different foods is a bridge into the many food cultures that make us collectively American.” page 28

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, illustrated by Man One.
Readers to Eaters, Bellevue, Washington, 2017.
Picture book biography, 30 pages.
Lexile:  710L  .
AR Level:  4.0 (worth 0.5 points)  .

This is the story of Chef Roy Choi, who’s best known for his Kogi food trucks that combined traditional Korean food with popular street foods like tacos or barbecue in a unique and delicious way.

Chef Roy Choi cover resized
Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, illustrated by Man One.

It’s kind of funny that I found this book through the Diverse KidLit linkup.  Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table has been on my wishlist for some time.  But honestly, neither of these books would have been on my radar at all without the internet.

I didn’t find the cover super appealing.  Cool, but I wasn’t a fan of the multicolored face.  However, the interior was fabulous.  The endpapers of the book are a photograph of ramen noodles cleverly repeating.  Taking inspiration from Chef Roy’s time on the streets of Los Angeles, the entire book is illustrated with a modern, graffiti-inspirited style.

There are several nods to famous street art, and the little details brought joy to my bibliophile heart.  Korean words are used within the text, and then little dots of color spray painted over the images define each word as it is first introduced.

Chef Roy Choi p6-7 resized
Chef Roy Choi pages six and seven, showing the three different types of text.

The text had a hip-hop rhythm that isn’t obvious, but keeps the pace interesting.  A few sections have somewhat longer text than I’d normally like, but because of the strong rhythm of the book, it still works as a read-aloud (just practice the Korean words first).  The definitions and food poems are in different types of writing but can be skipped for a shorter read.

I liked that Roy’s struggles with fitting in and the prejudice he faced were addressed, even though they weren’t the main topics of the book.  Impressively, the main text is always kept visible for young readers, with a clear contrast.  Some of the pages seem over-exaggerated, but stay true to graffiti style.  Though the art varies a bit over the course of the book, it’s always clear when Chef Roy is shown.

The endnotes had all the details that could be desired, from Man One going over the steps he used to create the artwork, to Martin and Lee explaining how they worked in harmony to write the text, and what research they did.  There are ample websites to explore and apparently Chef Roy has a book for adults which I’ve asked the library to purchase.

This book itself is an example of the synthesis Roy is known for.  Martin is known for her non-fiction picture books; Lee is new to the field but has a deep understanding of food and culture – plus her experiences as a Korean-American immigrant in California mirror Roy’s.  Finally, Man One is an L.A. artist of Mexican heritage who rose to prominence together with Chef Roy, making him perfect to envision Roy’s early years in a street art style.  Mixing all of these flavors, they manage to make something even more amazing.

Beyond the obvious learning opportunities, I like my students to see that it’s possible to love rap and graffiti style art while also being a good citizen, that it’s important to follow your passions in life, that Asians are good at a variety of jobs (not just science and math), and that blending cultures can be wonderful.

This book is on the cutting edge of food trends and modern cuisine.  I expect it will appeal to any young cooks, budding rap artists, and non-fiction picture book lovers.  It would pair well with When the Beat Was Born.  Recommended.  Oh, and as a bonus, this book will also teach you the meaning behind the phrase awesomesauce!


Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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