Saturday, April 4, 2015

Big City Chefs Take on "Fast Food"

In Morgan Spurlock's game-changing documentary film Super-size Me, one of his physicians opined, "You know, there's no reason fast food has to be so disgusting."


It's with that insight that "two prominent LA chefs have founded ... a new approach to fast food that provides nutritious and delicious fare in some of LA's poorest neighborhoods." Profiled in this week's WSJ Magazine by Howie Kahn, The Real Fast-Food Revolution, chefs Daniel Patterson and Roy Choi have taken the insight of Spurlock's doctor to heart, and with the launch of Loco'l they are providing a better burger using whole grains and quality products.

Patterson wanted to expand his idea in the form of a fast-food restaurant. It would link the Cooking Project to social enterprise, creating jobs in the Tenderloin. And it would give the fast-food chains that inundate inner-city diets with a steady stream of chemicals and high-fructose corn syrup a run for their money. “We’d bring in a natural, cooked-with-integrity alternative,” says Patterson. “We’d have chefs feed these neighborhoods, not corporations.” In Choi, he recognized the desire to help the same demographic. So a few weeks later, he flew to Los Angeles, where Choi co-owns four popular restaurants, plus the fleet of Kogi Korean taco trucks that put him on the map. They began hatching a plan for Loco’l, their chef-driven fast-food restaurant, over a bowl of Korean noodles. “There was no money behind us yet, no investors,” says Choi, “but we don’t put business in front of ideas. We slurped a hot pot, talked about changing the game, and there was no question from there—we were doing this.” 

The chefs chose the 2014 MAD Symposium last August to announce their plan publicly. Choi took the stage to speak, introducing Patterson—“DP,” he said, invoking their bond by way of nickname—eight minutes later. They both stood behind a long, age-worn butcher’s block flanked by trees, the 45-year-old Choi wearing a baseball cap with a crisp brim, and Patterson, 46, donning the festival’s T-shirt. “We’re going to tackle the fast-food industry,” proclaimed Choi. The Loco’l logo—a graffiti-inspired skateboarding hamburger wearing a beanie—popped up on a screen behind him. “We’re going to build a concept that has the heart and the ideology and the science of a chef, but it’ll have the relevance of McDonald’s or Burger King. We’re going to go toe-to-toe to see how we can challenge the status quo of fast food.”

This sort of innovative and inspired leadership by true chefs deserves all the praise it's getting and more. Rather than cheering the bottom line profits and trivial wage hikes by the business community, we should be promoting more people like Patterson and Choi. Other visionaries include Chipotle founder Steve Ells and, of course, the Naked Chef Jamie Oliver. In a nation that has schizophrenic food views that range from "Zagat Guides to Dollar Menus," we can use more people who stand up for quality.

No comments: