We spoke with Judy Joo, city trader turned celebrity chef to find out more about her intriguing career path, culinary inspirations and ‘comforting, modern Korean’ cooking style.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I have always loved food and cooking and grew up in a very strong Korean food culture, where my mom was making everything from scratch. Although I learned to appreciate good food from an early age, becoming a chef wasn’t an option per se with my tiger parenting.
I was being groomed to attend an Ivy League school and then perhaps a doctor. I didn’t manage to become a doctor, but instead felt the lure of Wall Street beckoning me, and embarked on a career on the trading floor. But after about five years, I decided to give it all up and pursue a dream— I followed my heart and enrolled in cooking school at the French Culinary Institute in NYC.
Tell us more about your culinary background…
I graduated cooking school with a Pastry Arts grand diplome in 2004. I initially worked in the food media realm, and found myself at Saveur magazine working for Colman Andrews on both the editorial side and in the test kitchen. I absolutely loved it and learned so much. I cherished my time here, and loved exploring different cultures and history through food. I also worked at Slow Food USA and started their first inner city program in Harlem through Slow Food In Schools.
I then made an across the pond move to London, where I started working in kitchens and doing TV work. One thing led to the next and my real break was landing Iron Chef UK, becoming the second female Iron Chef worldwide. That eventually led to my own show, Korean Food Made Simple… and then through some more serendipity, my first restaurant, Jinjuu was born.
How did growing up in America influence your cooking style?
I grew up in New Jersey, but spent my formative years in New York, having moved there as a student at age 18. America, especially New York is a true melting pot of cultures and ethnic enclaves abound.
Jinjuu’s menu is peppered with Korean American influences which are some of our best-sellers— our philly cheesesteak dumplings, Korean disco fried (a nod to my home state of New Jersey), Korean style NY cheesecake and more. I like to think that I take some of the greatest hits from both cultures and meld them together to make something truly unique and memorable.
If you weren’t a chef, which career would you like to pursue?
Luxury travel, spa, and yacht reviewer.
Do you have any tips for aspiring chefs?
Work hard and smart… it is all about hard work and dedication.
Describe your cooking style in three words.
Comforting modern Korean.
What provides you with inspiration for new recipes?
My travels provide me with the most inspiration… eating out in restaurants, seeing markets, the world has so much inspiration.
Do you have any role models?
I am a big fan of other women paving the way in unchartered territory. Michelle Obama, Tina Faye, Amelia Earhart, Misty Copeland, Connie Chung, Elena Arzak, to name a few.
What food takes you back to childhood?
A warm bowl of jook (aka congee). My mom used to feed me this rice porridge every day after school.
What’s your favourite midnight snack?
Instant ramen noodles.
What are your favourite summer ingredients?
I love summer fruits. Deep red cherries, blush juicy peaches and cool crisp watermelon are among my favourites.
What’s next on the cards?
Who knows! Let’s see where the wind blows me…
PLUS: Find Judy Joo’s delectable Kimchi Fried Rice recipe in the latest issue of Good Things on page 73.