As innutritious as fast food is known to be, it remains a staple of the U.S. diet, particularly among poorer Americans who often can’t afford healthier alternatives. Fortunately, help may be on the way: chef Roy Choi is hoping a chain of healthy fast food restaurants in low-income communities.
Choi is best known for opening Kogi, a popular gourmet Korean-fusion truck. Since helping to spearhead America’s current love affair with food trucks, he has been labeled one of the most innovative and important chefs in the United States. He’ll certainly live up to that title if he is successful in shaking up the way the country does fast food.
Last year, Choi made a splash when he called out the culinary world for allowing good food to become a classist issue, inevitably creating “desolate food communities.” Now, he’s taking action himself – along with notable San Francisco restaurateur Daniel Patterson — to fill the gaps with restaurants of his own.
The yet-to-debut chain is called Loco’l. The name is a nod to serving local communities, as well as “loco,” the Spanish word for crazy, a response to critics who claim that providing healthier food to low income Americans is an insane plan. The first Loco’l will open its doors in early 2015 in San Francisco, with another location to follow in Los Angeles a few months later. Though Loco’ls are expected to pop up in a variety of places, the chefs will place an emphasis on opening the restaurants in low income neighborhoods where there is a lack of nutritious options.
“Don’t tell me we don’t want great, delicious, cheap fast food,” said Choi. “It’s only because we haven’t been given the choice to choose, and we destroy our youth and our neighborhoods with corporations that serve addictive poison that we convince ourselves otherwise.”
Indeed, it seems unfair to declare that people living in lower income neighborhoods wouldn’t want healthier dining alternatives when such alternatives rarely exist to prove otherwise.
To compete with current fast food giants like McDonald’s and Burger King, cost is essential. After all, giving people who live near the poverty line access to better food is useless if they can’t afford to eat the food regularly. For that reason, Loco’l aims to price each of its items between $2 and $6.
Although the Loco’l team has yet to reveal a complete menu, Choi said it would feature multicultural cuisine that mimics the current appetite of the American populace. That means tacos, falafels, rice bowls, salads, and, yes, hamburgers. Healthier hamburgers, though: the beef will be mixed with tofu and Choi’s colleague, Chad Robertson, is currently developing a whole grain fermented bun just for the restaurant chain.
Ultimately, it’s the taste of the food that Choi expects will win over underprivileged communities. Fast food, he points out, is generally designed and cooked by untrained workers, resulting in bland, thoughtless food. With professionally trained chefs working on this project and manning the kitchens, Choi expects to see diners develop a better understanding of what good food actually tastes like.
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