Orbis Pictus Honor Book: Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix
Written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee
Illustrated by Man One
Published by Readers to Eaters, 2016
Grades 2 and Up
On the very first page of this innovative and immensely relevant picture book biography, readers are presented with a “Ramen Remix” written over a “Hello my name is” badge, and Roy’s message that “good food makes smiles.” We meet Roy through his recipes and his message: food connects us within neighborhoods, across cities, and indeed, across geographical and cultural boundaries. Food and culture mix and remix with one another. Written in verse by two authors, this picture book biography starts with the present, and Los Angeles-based Chef Roy Choi’s endeavors to bring good food, cooked with “sohn-maash….the love and cooking talent that Korean mothers and grandmothers mix into their handmade food” and jobs to a variety of neighborhoods. From there, we dive into a chronological narrative of Roy’s life, from his early days helping his parents make dumplings in their restaurant, to the confusion of adolescence isolation, the heady days as a celebrity chef, and finally, to his current work bringing a fusion of Latino and Korean food to urban communities via food trucks and fast food restaurants. Man One’s graffiti art illustrations turn this biography into a love song to Los Angeles’s diverse fusion of cultures and the ways in which street art and street food are blurring boundaries: true remixes. Chef Roy and Man One are both creating decidedly Los Angeles-based art. Their passionate remixes celebrate diversity, cultural uniqueness, and the vibrant beauty of urban living.
Teaching Ideas and Invitations
Grades 2 and Up
Food, Your Classroom, Graphical Literacy. Have students make a list of their favorite foods. Next, have them make a list of the foods that they most frequently eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Across the meals, how are these foods similar and different to one another? What ethnic and cultural influences are at work? To deepen students’ graphical literacy, have them decide the different ways that they can represent the foods they eat graphically. Support class discussion to determine how to organize the information into graphics, given the representation of types of food within the class. Have students work in small groups to create those graphics. As always, a sensitivity to food scarcity issues in your community is essential. If you feel unaware of this issue, seek out guidance counselors or social workers at your school; you may also want to consult the resources of Feeding America.
Chefs in your Community. Who are the Chef Roys of your community? What range of global and fusion cuisine is available in your community? What restaurants in your community are owned and operated by immigrants? Invite a panel of local cooks, either from local restaurants, food trucks, or catering businesses. You may also want to include staff from your school’s kitchen/food service. Before the panel, have students compare and contrast menus from these various locations and discuss what is food is familiar and unfamiliar to them. Next, have them note the similarities and differences in ingredients across the different menus. Work with students to develop questions for the panelists. If possible, celebrate the panel event with a potluck lunch, with families, school staff, and chefs contributing. Again, you will want to be mindful of food scarcity in your community.
Chef Roy and the Street Food Remix as Mentor Text. You may or may not choose to host the chef’s panel from the previous teaching idea. Regardless, have students research and write picture book biographies of the chefs in your local community. Have students get to know each chef a little through the restaurant website and menu. Develop a set of questions that the whole class might ask, and then specific questions for individual interviews. Have students practice interviewing in class. Depending on your geographical location, students may do the interviews in pairs or small groups at the restaurants or at the school, or over phone/Skype. As students compose their picture book biographies, make sure they consider the type of artwork most appropriate for the chef they are writing about and the food culture in which s/he cooks. For example, have them consider the selection of Man One as an artist for Chef Roy. What food might they choose to have on their end pages, replacing the ramen noodles in Chef Roy?
Diversifying Your School Lunch Menu. Have students read through the menu for lunch at your school. In what ways is the menu diverse? In what ways is the menu repetitive? Are a broad array of eaters able to eat off the menu, such as vegetarians and vegans, those who are gluten-free, those with allergies, and those on a kosher or halal diet? Who decides what gets cooked each month? How much money does the school have to spend on ingredients? What do the people at your school like to cook? Are there any local farms or urban farms that supply fruits or vegetables to your school kitchen? Have your students interview the director of food service for your school or district. Next, have your students develop a plan for phasing in new foods. Have them research the cost of purchasing food so that they can make recommendations that are within the school’s budget. Students might also want to research programs, companies, and organizations that can help diversify the lunch menu, such as, Revolution Foods, The Edible Schoolyard Project, and Readers to Eaters, the publisher of Chef Roy.
Adjectives and Ramen Tasting. After reading Chef Roy, your students may be hungry for ramen noodles! Have they ever tasted homemade ramen noodles, or just the dried packaged noodles? Invite local chefs and/or parents to make fresh ramen with your students. Cook up your ramen and packaged ramen, and create a graffiti wall of adjectives describing each. Challenge your students to come up with new and original adjectives for describing the tastes of both types of ramen.
Cooking with Love, Oral History, and Informational Literacy: Reading and Writing Recipes as Procedural Texts. Do your students know how to read a recipe? Take out as many cookbooks as possible from your local library, calibrating your selection to the age range and interests of the students in your class. Have your students read through a wide variety, allowing them time to explore different representations of recipes and cooking processes. After a broad inquiry, model a close reading of a recipe. After you read through the recipe and identify the function of different parts of the recipe, follow the recipe and make the food. What works and does not work about the language. What questions do your students have and why? Next, have students do a close reading of one or two recipes within a single cookbook. Then, place them in small groups to develop a “formula” for writing a successful recipe. What basic outline do they observe having looked at a range of recipes? Next, have them interview someone from their family, neighborhood, school, or religious community who, like Chef Roy, “cooks with love” from memory. This may be an elderly member of the community, but it could also be someone who cooks intuitively or learned to cook by watching someone else from an early age. Students can record that person talking about one item that s/he cooks without a recipe, in order to capture the process and the ingredients. Have the student then write down the recipe so that others can also use it. Publish a class digital and/or print cookbook or a class website with the collected recipes and profiles of the individual chefs.
Learning More About One Man and Graffiti Art. What is the history of graffiti art? How does One Man fit into that local history in Los Angeles as well as the national and international history of graffiti as an art form? Use the digital resources below, some drawn from the back matter in the biography, to explore One Man’s life and work with your students. Next, use subscription databases available to you through your state library system to research more about him and the history of graffiti. Have students create multimedia presentations, graffiti art, or some other type of text to demonstrate their new learning.
Food Truck Culture. How often do your students eat at food trucks? Depending on where you teach, food trucks may be a staple of your local culture, or something that exists only on television. What are the benefits of food truck culture? What role do they serve in Chef Roy’s Los Angeles? What might be a drawback to having food trucks in your community? How might brick-and-mortar restaurants feel about food trucks, as compared to consumers? Are they in competition with food trucks? How do food trucks differ from the fast food restaurants that might be in your community? Have students search for local news stories as well as ones from other parts of the country in newspapers available through databases. Have students write from different perspectives about the role of food trucks in your community moving forward. You may wish to have students read the middle grade novel Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres, in which the protagonist’s father’s food truck is threatened by local regulation changes.
Ruminations on Remix. What is a remix? What are those old cassette tapes doing within the illustrations? Have your students explore the concept of the remix. After reading the picture book biography, ask students to consider the title and what the “Street Food Remix” really is. Next, have students read more about the concept or remix. Listen to remix examples of music, and then consider remix in visual arts, books, movies, or even on You Tube. Have students document instances of remix in their everyday lives over the course of a week. Finally, provide your students with the opportunity to create and design their own remix projects. After students have presented their remixes to one another, support a conversation about why remix is an important noun and verb in the 21st century.
Refugees and Food Culture. Chef Roy came to the United States with his family when he was two. As the author’s note explains, both he and co-author June Jo Lee were able to emigrate from South Korea to the United States because the United States changed immigration laws in 1965 to allow for greater numbers of Asian immigrants. Today, we face a global refugee crisis, with men, women, and children in the millions seeking political refuge. These new refugees, like Roy’s parents, want and need to work. Recently in New York City, Eat Offbeat began, a food service company that delivers meals to offices and private events around the city. All meals are cooked by refugees who now call New York City home. Have students explore the site, the chefs, and the menu options. Next, place students in small groups and charge them with the creation of a business plan to connect food producers in your town, county, neighborhood, or city. What immigrant or refugee populations are in your area? What local farming and/or fishing communities exist? How can you connect them and diversify the food options available in your community?
Roy Choi’s Difficult Moments. Not everything about Chef Roy’s life was easy. In fact, there were many challenging moments. Some of those moments are discussed intimately. Others are referred to, but not addressed in-depth. Have your students explore the resources shared by the authors in the back matter. What do they learn about Chef Roy that isn’t in the book? What might have been the reasons why the authors chose not to emphasize those parts? As a class, discuss the ways in which theme and characterization influence the writing of a picture book biography.
Celebrity Chefs: Big Money or Agents of Change? Is Chef Roy a “celebrity chef?” If so, what are some of the ways that he is using his celebrity to shift food culture in Los Angeles and around the nation? What roles do other celebrity chefs play, from the Food Network stars to those on PBS? Have your students research a range of celebrity chefs. Have them first curate a variety of news articles, interviews, and, if possible, television shows featuring each chef. What kind of “brand” has the chef created for him/herself? What kind of work is the chef doing to shape and change food culture in the United States? Do chefs have a responsibility to do work for the social good? Or, is their work more rooted in artistry? Or, in making money? Or, all of the above? Have students prepare presentations on different chefs and compare how they are similar to and different from one another, and to Chef Roy.
Hartland, J. (2012). Bon appetit! The delicious life of Julia Child. New York: Schwartz and Wade.
Hopkinson, D. (2004). Fannie in the kitchen: The whole story from soup to nuts of how Fannie Farmer invented recipes with precise measurements. New York: Aladdin.
Torres, J. (2017). Stef Soto, Taco Queen. New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
About Mary Ann Cappiello
Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.
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