Judy Joo had already had a career on Wall Street before she decided to swap to doing something she was really passionate about – cooking. Having received her Grand Diplome in pastry arts she moved to London in 2007 and worked for the likes of Restaurant Gordon Ramsey, The Fat Duck and The Playboy Club London. Stints on television followed with Judy starring in Iron Chef UK and Iron Chef America. In 2014 she opened the doors to her first restaurant as chef patron, the modern Korean restaurant Jinjuu. We caught up to talk about following your dreams, Korean food and respect in the kitchen.
You studied engineering and went on to work in Wall Street before switching to a totally different career path, what finally made you decide to follow your passion for cooking?
I had an epiphany, and embraced the fact that life is short, and that we all should at least try to pursue our dream. Thus, I decided to step away from my stable career in finance and entered the world of cooking, pursuing my passion for food.
You’ve worked not only in London, but other Michelin-starred restaurants all around the world, what lessons did you learn you would pass onto up-and-coming chefs as well?
As the #MeToo movement has illustrated, the world is not always a fair place especially for women. Kitchens are notoriously male dominated and as an Asian American female living in London, I have had to break through many barriers and misconceptions. It has been extremely frustrating at times and a lot of hard work, but don’t give up. Just believe in yourself, be diligent, committed and success will come.
What do you like most about Korean food?
I love the pungent spicy unapologetic flavours. Korean food is bold, bright and rather dramatic—like the people! It is full of flavour, colour, texture and completely surprising.
Growing up multiculturally, what grounded you to your roots that led you to open up a Korean restaurant?
My innate and deep love for my ancestry. Korean food is my ultimate comfort food and you should always cook what you love and have a deep connection to.
We’re in Jinjuu, what do we order?
The Korean fried chicken is our best seller. We make it with matzoh meal, vodka and have special pressure fryers that seal in all of the juicy goodness and make the crust extra crispy. We are also famous for our homemade 100% natural kimchi, packed full of probiotics. Bibimbap (a veggie rice bow) is also a best seller. One of my favourite dishes, is a fusion dumpling called “The Philly Cheesesteak” mandoo. It has traditional Korean braised beef, mixed with the classic Philly cheesesteak ingredients.
Why did you decide on opening your first restaurant in London?
I have been living in London for over 13 years now. It made sense to open something where I was living, and I saw a gap in the market. London has very few cool and hip Korean restaurants.
You have two restaurants now, where do you go from here?
No idea! Let’s see what happens!
What is your favourite thing about the London food scene? And what do you wish would just disappear?
The diversity of the London food scene is vast and so intriguing. The Indian offerings and the Middle Eastern food scene is particularly tasty. A trend that I’m not crazy about? I would say this whole movement towards eating insects. I just don’t find them tasty and would rather not eat bugs.
Which London restaurants do you like to eat at?
It’s such a hard choice as London is full of so many inspirational restaurants but my favourites have to be Scott’s for seafood, Trishna for Indian, and I love Chantelle Nicholson’s desserts at Tredwells.
What is the number one rule in your kitchen?
No harassment. No discrimination. Respect everyone.
What drew you to cooking in the first place?
I love to eat and I love food! Plus, I have a strong science background and an engineering degree, so I also love the science side of cooking.
Who would be at your dream dinner party?
Tina Fey, Michelle Obama, Arianna Huffington, Madeline Albright, Billie Jean King, Amelia Earhart, Oprah Winfrey, JK Rowling.