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Chef, Not Chef - Carl Casper’s (Roy Choi’s) Pasta Aglio e Olio

Updated: Apr 21, 2020

It should come as no surprise that I love watching videos of chefs do their thing, even if they’re occasionally not chefs in real life. One of my old favorites is “The Big Night,” with Tony Shalhoub (Monk, Men In Black) as the highly talented chef. I actually aspire to make his Timpano someday - both because it looks amazing and because, as I’ve stated here many times before, I’m an Italian wannabe.

But in recent years, my favorite has been “Chef,” a movie that Jon Favreau wrote, directed and starred in, about a highly touted chef who implodes and has to go back to his culinary roots to pull his life back together.

Among the many lessons this wonderful film actually imparts is one that has taken me a long time to accept: Sometimes, simple, done really well, is better than anything. That’s certainly true of Anthony Bourdain’s favorite - Cacio e Pepe - that I wrote about months ago, and true of this similar recipe as well.

Apparently, Favreau took his role of a highly trained chef very seriously and went to Roy Choi - a chef who is renowned for “food that isn’t fancy” and is one of the founders of the gourmet food truck movement. He put Favreau through some pretty intense culinary training, which, I read, he is actually continuing. I understand - you can’t stop once you get serious about it.


1 pound dried spaghetti

¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil

12 large garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers*

2 teaspoons crushed red pepper, plus more for serving

Kosher salt and black pepper

⅓ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving

* Add a couple of crushed anchovies here also, if you’re feeling saucy.


Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add the spaghetti, cooking until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, reserving a little of the pasta water.

Meanwhile, in a large pan, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown. Add the crushed red pepper and season with salt and pepper. Add the drained spaghetti to the pan and toss, adding a little of the pasta water, until the spaghetti is thoroughly coated.

Remove the pan from heat, add the parsley and Parmesan and toss well. Check for flavor, adding more salt if necessary. Add the lemon juice, garnish with more Parmesan and serve with lemon wedges and crushed red pepper.

Try a Piccini Chianti, a Sicilian Red, a hearty Zinfandel or even a crisp Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc with this dish.

Chef Choi was responsible for all the recipes in the movie, but when the movie needed a dish that would seduce the likes of Scarlett Johannsen, Favreau asked for Choi’s pasta aglio e olio. Choi makes the dish (which he calls “transcendence through a handful of humble ingredients”) every week for Sunday dinner, and Favreau asked for it specifically for the film. “He knew it would get her right where he wanted her,” says Choi.

Best make this with someone you’re close to.

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