How Roy Choi really feels about working with celeb guests - Exclusive

There are celebrity chefs, and there are chefs who hang out with celebrities. Chef Roy Choi is both. Mad taco skills are what put Choi on the culinary map with his Kogi BBQ food truck empire. Meanwhile, Choi's chill banter with celebrities — which you can catch on his Netflix series, The Chef Show, now in its second season — is what makes him a favorite among Hollywood royalty. Case in point: Choi's newest gig is co-hosting an episode of the new HBO Max Original show, Selena + Chef, starring the one and only Queen Selena Gomez. So fascinating is Choi that director Jon Favreau even made a movie loosely based upon his life, Chef, which featured John Leguizamo and Sofia Vergara.

So how does Choi feel about all of these celebrities intersecting with his life, as well as his own fame? In an interview with Mashed, Choi revealed what it's really like to spend time and break bread with some of the most famous faces in the entertainment industry.

Choi says he admires the celebrities who've appeared on his show

You might think that all of the fame Choi's achieved in recent years might make his head a little too big for his chef's cap (er, well, his LA Dodgers cap, which he's often spotted in), but on the contrary, the Korean-born taco master said he remains in awe of many of the stars he's worked with. "I'm a fan first," he explained. "My life changed just over a decade ago, to become this, whatever it is, this public figure... So up until that time, being an unknown person publicly, I was a fan. So, I'm a hardcore fan of all the people that I've met."

Even if he's well-recognized now, Choi said that he never forgets that he's privileged to work with such A-listers. "I mean, we were dealing with legends out there," he added. "Dustin Hoffman, John Leguizamo, Robert Downey, Jr!" Plus, the celebrities he's worked with have been respectful of Choi's own craft. Selena Gomez, for example, couldn't have been more engaged in his lesson on how to cook short-rib breakfast tacos. "She didn't complain about nothing. She was in it. She wasn't just there to be there — she was interested, and she was following the methods," Choi said. "The most important thing that I cared about was that she was interested." 

You can watch the HBO Max Original Series Selena + Chef to see Selena Gomez banter with Chef Roy Choi and nine other master chefs.

Becoming famous forced Choi to become more extroverted

Selena Gomez, Robert Downey Jr., Dustin Hoffman... this much star power might render many of us unable to speak, let alone cook, in the presence of such headliners. But Choi has been able to grab a spatula and keep on going. "You wake up to the moments, and you can either rise to the moment and be the moment, or you can constantly be in denial, or feel some sort of guilt or shame towards the moment, or maybe have difficulty with it," he explained.

Still, Choi did have to force himself to become more extroverted so he could adapt to this more public lifestyle. "Before, I was really shy — I could barely walk up to people," he confessed. "I'd go to shows, music shows, rap shows — I'd always be just silent in the crowd. But now, I feel I'm right there with them. And what's great is that I'm right there, toe to toe with whoever it is, the biggest of the biggest, but I still bring all the people, and all the fans, all the voices that are on the streets that are watching the screens. I'm one of them."

In that way, Choi said he is able to be a celebrity, a chef, and a fan, all rolled into one. "So I feel I represent [fans] in a way," he explained. "So, I'm kind of the one that made it through, and then I can share it with everyone that doesn't have this opportunity. So for me, I take that as a responsibility and I put that on my shoulders."

Choi is proud to represent the Asian-American community

Not only does Choi represent the voice of the fan when he's interacting with celebrities, but he's also extremely aware that he's serving as the face of Asian-Americans, both to non-Asians who might previously have associated his ethnicity with outdated stereotypes, as well as to young people from his own community who are looking for a positive role model. "I'm proud," Choi said. "And I think the less I'm cognizant and nervous and careful about it, the better I can represent Asian-American culture. Because in popular culture, and in not only film, music, television — but just in societal popular culture, what's cool — Asian Americans haven't really had a commanding voice over the last four decades."

Choi noted that non-Asians have depicted Asian-Americans in an extremely unflattering light. "We've either been fetishized — especially Asian women in many ways — for all the wrong reasons. And the Asian men have been emasculated," Choi said. He raises these points not to be "PC," he said, but simply to "be an individual human being, with flaws and stupid jokes and crazy moments, and honesty and sincerity and strength. And just be out there doing really innovative, creative things that resonate with people — and that, again, that have humility and again honesty and strength." 

It's this authenticity, Choi explained, that conveys to the world, "you can't put us all together into that horrible stereotype of, we all look the same, or we are the same," he said. "I'm proud to be a person in this moment, with this reason and purpose to be here." This is exactly why The Chef Show is unscripted, Choi added. "When you see it, it's not manicured and perfectly put together — it's quirky and weird and all over the place. And then that's okay," he said. "Because a lot of Asian kids never saw anything like that, to aspire to be, because we don't really have many characters out there in popular culture, that have been either written by Asian people or represented naturally by Asian people."

Choi also said he is proud that other Asian-Americans have risen to mainstream stardom in recent years. "So the whole Crazy Rich Asians family, Randall Park, what he did, him and Ali Wong, with Always Be My Maybe. Jimmy O. Yang, on Silicon Valley, to everyone... I'm a fan and I support them 1000 percent," he said. "And it's just, we need more! We can't just live off of one Crazy Asians movie to define everything that we represent."

Catch Roy Choi and Jon Favreau in Season 2, Volume 1 of The Chef Show, premiering Sept. 24 on Netflix.