Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 1: Matt Pak of Koagie Hots and the Golden Grill Food Trucks, on the Korean Tapas Restaurant He Would Have Opened

This is the first part of a three-part Chef Chat series. Parts two and three will run in this same space on Thursday and Friday.

Korean food is full of flavor and texture, its tastiness so addictive that it brought national attention to LA's @kogibbq truck, whose claim to fame was Korean barbecue-stuffed tacos. In Houston, we have our own Koagie truck, only it's not serving Korean barbecue tacos. The brainchild of chef Matt Pak, Koagie Hots is doing Korean barbecue (bulgogi) hoagies, Korean barbecue-topped hot dogs, and kimchi fries, and as far as addictions go, I'm seriously hooked. I find myself craving it late at night, which is exactly when Koagie Hots is available to serve.

The bright red truck is open six days a week -- Tuesday through Sunday -- and you'll usually see it parked across the street from Anvil in the Boondocks lot, serving piping hot, super tasty food until 3 a.m. Its sister truck, The Golden Grill, is also on the food truck circuit, though it's more often out on catering gigs.

This week, we sat down for a chat with Pak to find out how he ended up choosing the food truck path and what it's like to own not just one but two different food truck concepts in Houston.

EOW: Tell me a bit about yourself.

MP: I grew up in New York, moved, lived in Vegas for a while, Arizona, and then I came to Houston and worked at Benjy's -- both in the Village and on Washington -- for about four years as a sous chef under Mike Potowski.

EOW: You said you grew up in New York. When did you start your culinary career?

MP: Well, I grew up working in kitchens. That's the only type of job I ever really had. I worked in a couple of country clubs in upstate New York, a couple of different diners, a pizzeria when I was younger. Moved to Vegas and worked for a large catering company for a year and a half. After that, moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, and worked under Aaron May at Sol y Sambra. I worked there for a couple of years. I like moving around. And then I came to Houston.

EOW: What brought you to Houston?

MP: I had a friend that I grew up with that was here. I came down to visit, met my wife, then decided to look for a job, did a couple of tastings. I did one for Benjy's and they called me in a week later, and then I ended up moving here.

EOW: You said you worked at a country club. Talk a little about your culinary repertoire -- what you're used to doing, what inspired you to do what you do now.

MP: Well, I started dishwashing, prep cook, did bar food at the country club. Just worked under different chefs. I even worked at Outback Steakhouse for a while. I moved up the chain from fryer station to sautée to grill.

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham