I. Men Who Fix Things

There’s a necessary concoction of good intention and hubris that propels men, those of us socially instructed to be masters of the universe, fathers and philanderers, to attempt improbable things, fueled exclusively by the idea that we can do anything, and do it better.

This notion, which welds a narrow respect of history with a grand vision for the future, is the motor that propels San Francisco’s startup princes, populist political animals, self-important writers and vanity-begotten chefs.

In the summer of 2013, under a Copenhagen tent teeming with the most acclaimed food professionals — that is, chefs and food writers — from around the world, Roy Choi gave a presentation at the MAD conference, a TED-style food symposium.

Dressed in a black T-shirt, “Stüssy” boldly stylized in gold across his chest, a flat-brimmed L.A. cap and camouflage pants, the Southern California chef spoke to the shadowed and quieted crowd, his voice trembling from anxiety and emotion.

Rattling off a series of dismal statistics, each more successively disheartening, Choi talked about the dire condition of the south central Los Angeles community. Of poverty, childhood hunger, curbed access to healthy food, dim education prospects. Of anemic civic participation, disintegrating households and prevalent violence.

Despite being inoculated from these desperate vagaries of non-Hollywood Los Angeles, which he was describing, Choi felt indicted by his proximity.

Warning of injustice as a universal threat, he exhorted his affluent, conscience-afflicted audience of food people to leverage their resources and act: “So why do I say all of these things at a food conference with the best chefs in the world? Because I really believe that chefs can do anything.”