Home » News

Food truck king Roy Choi adds authentic flavor to 'Chef' film

Published May 22, 2014 3:18 pm

Movies • The L.A. chef was a consultant on the new film.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If you're going to make a movie about a food truck, then it makes sense to hire Los Angeles chef Roy Choi as your technical consultant.

Choi, 44, became king of the food truck world after launching his Kogi food truck, which fused Korean BBQ and Mexican flavors and created LA's mobile food craze.

That's why writer/director Jon Favreau called on Choi to help him with "Chef," the story of Carl Casper (played by Favreau), who rediscovers his passion for food — and life — when he launches a food truck. (See review on XX).

Choi has served plenty of Hollywood stars on and off movie sets, but "I've never had a job actually working on a movie," he said during a recent telephone interview with The Tribune in which he answered questions about filming, cooking and "boring" restaurant meals.

In "Chef," you had control over everything to do with food — what was cooked, how the kitchen looked, what the actors wore — was that intimidating?

Jon really trusted me. There are a lot of people trying to break into film that would kill for the opportunity to have that amount of latitude. But I didn't take it for granted, I gave it my all and did the best I could. What really helped me was to be myself and treat everything the way I would in a real kitchen. I really learned a lot from the prop teams and set designers. There were a lot of things I wanted to do that didn't look good on screen. We really worked together to make it real, but also look good.

How was Jon Favreau as a chef? Was he a natural in the kitchen?

There was definitely a teacher/student relationship, but he was one of the best students. He really picked things up quickly. It was like Forrest Gump running and the splints coming off. He picked up on things that fast.

How did you come up with the "boring" meal that the restaurant critic didn't like?

I tried to pick dishes that would send that moment over the top. They were all things I had cooked several years before — scallops, frisée salad, lava cake. But I did some research to see if restaurants were still serving that stuff. I felt like the menu fit the scene and the story.

Pork and the Cubano sandwich play such a big role in the movie. How did that come to be what was served in the El Jefe truck?

It was all in the script. Jon was adamant about having the Cubano. It's a huge piece for the arc of the story. He really wanted the cubano to be traditional and I wanted to honor that. But it also had to have some sort of magic for people to be lining up. That came in the process: layering the meat, making the mojo pork [see recipe]. I have a Cuban/Jamaican restaurant, Sunny Spot, that has those same flavors of the Caribbean.

After seeing the movie, a lot of people will want to start a food truck. What advice would you give them?

My advice would be to not focus on the gimmick of it; focus on the flavor and freedom of it. Honestly, people think it's easier than restaurants and that bigger, faster, flashier is what wins the race. But it's actually harder than a restaurant for one specific reason: As a food truck operator I have one opportunity to win you over. People line up and take one bite and if you don't like it we're done, you've given up on me. At a restaurant I can make many mistakes. There are many other things to help me: the host, the music, the wine, the servers. If you don't like the appetizer, there's still three or four other courses to win you over. I can even win you over at dessert. But with a food truck it's all about the first bite.

Do you think the food truck movement is standing strong or waning?

[Food trucks] are out there on the streets day after day in Portland, Seattle, Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, Austin. It's strong.


Mojo Cubano sandwich

Mojo-marinated pork shoulder

¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup lightly packed cilantro, finely chopped

1 Tbsp. finely grated orange zest

¾ cup fresh orange juice

½ cup fresh lime juice

¼ cup lightly packed mint leaves, finely chopped

8 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon minced oregano

2 teaspoons ground cumin

Kosher salt and pepper

3 ½ pounds boneless pork shoulder, in one piece


6 ounces thinly sliced boiled ham

Softened butter, for brushing

6 (6-inch-long) soft baguettes or heroes, split lengthwise

Yellow mustard, for brushing

¾ pound thinly sliced mojo-marinated pork shoulder (from above)

½ pound thinly sliced Swiss cheese

3 half-sour dill pickles, thinly sliced lengthwise

For the marinated pork shoulder: In a bowl, whisk together all the marinade ingredients except salt, pepper and pork. Whisk in 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Transfer the marinade to a large resealable plastic bag and add pork. Seal the bag and turn to coat; set in a baking dish and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, heat the oven to 425 degrees and set a rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Transfer the pork to a work surface; discard the marinade. Fold the pork under itself, into thirds if necessary, and tie with string to form a neat roll. Season all over with salt and pepper and set on the rack.

Roast pork for 30 minutes, until lightly browned. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees and roast for 1 hour and 30 minutes longer or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 160 degrees. Transfer to a carving board and let pork rest for 30 minutes. Discard the string before slicing across the grain.

To make the sandwiches: Heat a large cast-iron griddle or panini press. Add ham slices to the griddle and cook over moderate heat, turning once, until browned in spots, about 1 minute. Transfer to a plate.

Generously butter cut sides of each baguette and toast on the griddle over moderate heat until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the baguettes to a work surface and generously brush the cut sides with mustard. Layer ham, pork, Swiss cheese and pickles on the baguette and close the sandwiches.

Generously brush the outside of the sandwiches with butter and set them on the griddle or press. If using a griddle, top the sandwiches with a large baking sheet and weigh it down with heavy cans or a cast-iron skillet. Cook the sandwiches over moderate heat until they're browned and crisp on the outside and the cheese is melted, 3 minutes per side on a griddle or 3 minutes total in a press.

Servings • 6

Source: Chef Roy Choi, Los Angeles —

Where to get a Cuban sandwich

After you see "Chef," you'll more than likely be hungry for a Cubano, a type of grilled submarine sandwich with ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles. Here are three places that have what you'll be craving.

Adobos Caribbean Grill • 9460 S. Union Square (650 East), Sandy; 801-679-1161. Open Monday through Thursday, noon to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, noon to 9:30 p.m. Closed Sunday.

Bocata Artisan Sandwiches • 28 S. State St. (inside City Creek Mall), Salt Lake City; 801-355-3538. Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Finca • 1291 S. 1100 East, Salt Lake City; 801-487-0699. Open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

More online

Recipe • Find out how to make the Mojo Cubano sandwich.