Roy Choi wants to save the world, one meal at a time.
The chef has been trying to do this, at least one taco at time, since he started Kogi BBQ. Over the years, he’s brought his social awareness to various endeavors — with his LocoL project, in which he and chef Daniel Patterson are bringing affordable fast food to underserved neighborhoods (his first Los Angeles location will be in Watts), and with Three Worlds Cafe, which serves healthful food in South Alameda.
Now, Choi is partnering with Munchery, the meal-delivery service. The four-year-old San Francisco-based start-up now has operations in Seattle, New York and L.A.
Unlike many food-delivery services, Munchery not only brings you your food, but it has chefs who cook it for you themselves first. They have kitchens in each of those four cities — their L.A. kitchen is in Gardena. And they’ll start delivering two new dishes by Choi on Monday.
Which means that, as of Monday, you’ll be able to get Choi’s cheesy ramen and kimchi fried rice with pork belly delivered to your home just by using your phone.
Choi says that he found out about Munchery from Jon Favreau, who directed the movie “Chef.” Favreau, who knew one of Munchery’s investors, thought that Choi would be interested in the project — and he was.
“It fits really well with what I’m doing now. This path that I’m on is about trying to create a level playing field for everyone,” Choi said. “There are communities where there are no restaurants, but everyone’s got a phone. Then there’s no judgment whether you’re in the Palisades or Watts — you get the best food and the best meals, and it costs like $7.99.”
Here’s how it works: You go online via the app or website, find what dish you want for dinner — a tandoori chicken bowl or pulled pork with roast cornbread by chef Micah Fields, Thai grilled chicken crunch salad by chef Ryan Carson, an enormous burger by chef Warren Schwartz — and order it. (There’s also a kid’s menu.) The dishes arrive — you even can schedule your order — cold, with instructions for heating in the oven or microwave. Ta-da!
Dishes are now under $13, and there’s a small delivery fee; the company hopes to further reduce prices. Also, they have a one-for-one program, like Warby Parker, in which for every meal you buy, they donate a meal.
“It looked like the love child between FedEx and a great kitchen,” Choi said.
“I’m not the best chef in the world, but I can bring a lot of soul,” said Choi about his part in the project. “I saw that they were real and that I could really help them — I could be a bridge to help them connect to the world.”
As part of this bridge, Choi is marking the launch of his food with his own very Roy-like party. This Monday from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., he’ll host an event at the Line Hotel in Koreatown — home of Pot and Commissary —with Munchery CEO and co-founder Tri Tran. For the party, there’ll be 500 free boxes of his Munchery dishes — which he’ll microwave himself for you in the 20 microwaves he’ll be setting up. The idea is to show us all how to do this at home, after, you know, you order his kimchee fried rice via the app on Tuesday.
Tran will be on hand, too, to eat more of the dishes he’s probably had a zillion times by now. Tran started Munchery, he says, as a solution to a very personal problem — what to make or get for dinner for his wife and two kids, as his wife works a lot too and he’s always been in charge of dinner.
“I lived next door to a former personal chef, and he told me what he’d make for rich people. I was like, whoa, I love your food but I can’t afford it.”
Tran, who is an engineer, says he put on his “engineering hat” and thought about making “kind of like an eBay where chefs can post and people can buy. Then I did all the deliveries [myself] in San Francisco."
Because pretending to be a Domino’s delivery guy was not the most efficient way to run his new business, Tran refined the system, hired chefs, raised tens of millions of dollars in funding and started expanding beyond the Bay Area. Munchery opened in Los Angeles about four months ago.
“We’re starting where it’s crowded,” said Tran about expanding in L.A. They currently deliver in Santa Monica and are moving to downtown, and they know they need to get to the underserved areas (the Westside not exactly being one of those) that really need them. They have a kitchen in Gardena and are building a second kitchen in Carson.
“It’s a tall order, especially the everywhere part,” Tran said. "There are food deserts everywhere.”
Line Hotel: 3515 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 368-3030. 7:30-9:30 p.m. Monday (food, drinks, dancing).
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