The Godfather of Korean Tacos Is Betting Big on a Plant-Based Future

Roy Choi's personal relationship with meat has been evolving for a decade. Now he's putting his money where his mouth is.

June 25, 2021 9:18 am
Roy Choi stares with glee at the Kogi Dog.
Roy Choi stares with glee at the Kogi Dog.
Field Roast

Born in Seoul and raised in Los Angeles, Korean-American chef Roy Choi has achieved food truck royalty status as the co-owner, co-founder and culinary force behind Kogi BBQ.

Offering a meat-heavy menu that fuses Korean BBQ with traditional Mexican food, Kogi’s signature item is a crispy corn taco filled with double-caramelized barbecue short ribs, salsa roja, cilantro-onion-lime relish and chili soy Kogi slaw. There are kimchi quesadillas and tofu tacos on the Kogi menu, but Choi’s popular fleet of food trucks is known best for serving up BBQ short ribs, not vegetarian options. Now that may be changing, in both the short and long term.

With a double-smoked and blistered Field Roast Signature Stadium Dog serving as the star, Choi’s new plant-based “Home Run” dog debuts today. It’s topped with Kogi slaw, three kinds of salsa, roasted sesame seeds, dairy-free cheese and the same relish he puts on the Kogi taco.

The Home Run, which will be available nationwide via Goldbelly, arrives accompanied by a limited-edition baseball-inspired streetwear collection that will be gifted to lucky customers at the Kogi BBQ Truck in Pasadena and the Kogi Taqueria in L.A. over this weekend. Though there is a promotional aspect to Choi putting the Field Roast dog — which also just became the official plant-based “Dodger Dog” at Dodger Stadium and contains protein from peas, brown rice and fava beans — on his menu, he is adamant that his personal connection with plant-based meat alternatives is genuine.

Try the plant-based Field Roast Kogi Dog
Field Roast

“My relationship with Field Roast is very important to me, but not just for myself,” Choi tells InsideHook. “I feel like where I am in my life and in the food world and in the journey of everything, I have an ability to influence people to make better choices. But the only way to do that is to not force things on people where it looks like a hollow PR move or some twist you don’t really mean. If I want people to believe I really want them to eat less meat or maybe even change their lives with plant-based, I have to treat the food as if I was cooking anything else. That’s why I thought a hot dog being the first pathway to all this was really, really important. From tailgates to birthday parties, to ballgames to the home, the hot dog is everywhere. My goal was to take this gateway that connects us all and make it so delicious people wouldn’t notice the difference between eating a meat hot dog and a plant-based hot dog. This is the first time I’ve ever had a hot dog that’s completely plant-based where I eat it and don’t think it’s not meat.”

The Home Run is the first Kogi item where a plant-based meat is the star of the show, but it definitely won’t be the last — Choi says transitioning away from meat is part of the long-term plans for his street-food empire.

“Kogi is a taco truck, but we’ve made a conscious decision to add a plant-based item that’s a signature item,” Choi says. “Maybe that leads to another one and then another one. Who knows? A year from now, we may have five items. It’s just all about that process. I wouldn’t mind if Kogi went from being a taco truck selling Korean short rib barbecue tacos in 2008 to being the leader in plant-based Korean barbecue plant-based tacos in 2028. I wouldn’t mind that progression as far as the journey of the company and the story of the company. I believe in plant-based, I believe in reducing the carbon footprint of cattle raising, I believe in not killing animals on a factory level as we do.”

That is far from lip service, as Choi personally began transitioning away from eating animal protein about a decade ago,, and today estimates his diet is about 70% to 80% plant-based.

“Almost 10 years ago I was just like, ‘If I truly believe in change and the things I speak about, I have to start with myself.’ So little by little I started to change and make conscious decisions about what I ate and when I ate it,” he says. “I tell people who want to make a change but don’t know how to go cold turkey that everything’s about the process. Don’t let peer pressure or society dictate your goals. Just because you’re not all the way there doesn’t mean that you’re not trying. I think it’s important to celebrate the small successes. If someone chooses to eat one meal that’s not animal-based, we have to celebrate that and then help them get onto two meals and three meals. Everything’s so absolute, where either you’re vegan or you’re not. Either you believe in animal rights or you don’t. Either you’re completely plant-based or you’re not, and you’re the villain. I don’t look at the world in that kind of binary way. For me, it’s about trying to make conscious decisions with each meal and each bite.”

That philosophy extends to Kogi as well.

“It’s a big moment for us at Kogi because we’re making a conscious decision to take the next step with our company,” Choi says. “We’re a taco truck. But as things change, we’re changing with it. Especially me as the leader of the truck, my diet has changed. So I’m trying to find ways to introduce our audience to things outside of animal protein, but not lose the essence and culture and flavor of Kogi itself. Who knows where we’ll be in 50 or 100 years as a human race with plant-based eating, but right now we’re still in a position where we’re still so … brainwashed. Our lifestyle is so consumed by and dictated by meat. We’re going through this transition where we have to re-train our brain and our body and our palate. If I can help in any way, that is what I want to do. This is who I am in life right now.”


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