10 minutes with: Judy Joo

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 30th December 2014
Korean-American Judy Joo is the executive chef behind Jinjuu, a Korean restaurant launching in Soho in January. After a career change from banker to chef, she worked in a number of Gordon Ramsay Group restaurants, and has gone on to have a successful TV career, appearing on Iron Chef in both the US and the UK, and presenting Korean Food Made Simple. She talks to The Staff Canteen about her career u-turn, the death of fine dining and her new restaurant. Judy Joo 1Like most chefs, cooking has always been a big part of Judy’s life. “I grew up in a house that loved to eat, with a mother that loved to cook,” she explained. “Food was very much a language of love in my family and in Asian culture. Taking that a step further, once I started working, I always wanted to go to the newest, coolest restaurants and keep on the pulse of what was happening.” It was only after years on the trading floor of financial corporation Morgan Stanley, however, that she decided to truly follow her passion. “I felt I wasn’t spending my time in the way that I wanted to,” she said, explaining the career change. “I guess you could say it was a bit of an epiphany. I just felt that I didn’t love what I did and didn’t want to spend my life doing something that I didn’t have a big passion for.” Why didn’t she go into a career as a chef straightaway? “Just because it was never presented as that,” she said. “I grew up in a very tiger mother upbringing; you have to go to a really good school, you have to study this, and especially with Asian parents, being a chef is nothing reputable and not respected.” “It’s only in the past five or ten years that the whole rise of the celebrity chef thing has happened and it’s become quite in vogue and cool. Particularly in Asia it was not viewed as a job you necessarily strived for; it was something that you ended up doing if you didn’t have any education.” Judy left her job to study at New York City’s French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) and graduated in 2004. Her first job in this new stage of her life was at gourmet food and wine magazine Saveur, where she worked in the development kitchen, developing recipes and writing editorials. Her first job as a restaurant chef, however was with Gordon Ramsay Group.ironchef-copy “I worked at Pétrus back when Marcus Wareing was in charge, I worked at Maze, where I got to know Jason Atherton, I was at Boxwood café, I was at Claridge’s, so I spent time rotating through all the different restaurants, which was great,” she said. “I don’t know if it necessarily formed my food style, but it honed my technique.” The other side to Judy is her television career. After appearances on Market Kitchen and Market Kitchen Big Adventure, her big break came when she became one of the Iron Chefs on the UK edition of the hit cooking show, which each week pits challengers against one of four resident professional chefs in a cook-off. “When the casting call for Iron Chef came up, basically everybody went for it in the entire country, just because it’s a massive show, a massive franchise that’s really well known around the world,” she said. “I thought well, I don’t think I’ll get it, but I went for it, kept getting called back and called back and ended up landing the gig.” Although Iron Chef UK didn’t take off like its American and Japanese cousins (it ran for one series), it was a “launchpad” to an amazing television career for Judy. “The producers who do Iron Chef in America saw me on the show here and liked me,” she said. “They brought me over to the US to start doing Iron Chef there, in judging roles as well as challenger roles, which lead to other positions on other shows in the US as well.” Jinjuu BasementNow Judy has her own series, Korean Food Made Simple, premiering on the UK’s Food Network in January and her own restaurant, Jinjuu, launching in the same month. Many dream of running their own restaurant, but for Judy, 'it just kind of happened'. After three and a half years as executive chef of London’s Playboy Club, she felt she had to move on. “It was about time to do my own thing,” she said. “You can’t stay at some place for too long, you need to grow.” The new restaurant is 'Soho, not Mayfair', serving Korean food in a casual, informal setting – a world away from the fine dining kitchens in which she used to cook. “I personally think that fine-dining is dying,” she said, explaining the reasons behind Jinjuu. “There’s also a part of me that’s very much a business person and fine-dining restaurants don’t make a lot of money. A lot of them are vanity projects, they cost a lot to run, overheads are massive, and you barely break even. I’m personally over eating in fine-dining restaurants also; I don’t want a five hour meal, I don’t want a 5000 calorie meal. It’s a commitment and it sets you back £500 a head. “I understand the business model of restaurants completely; the restaurants that make the most money are the McDonalds of the world. I’m not trying to run a McDonalds, but you need something that’s going to appeal to the masses, you need something that’s very accessible, and I wanted to do something that’s fun."KFMS Fusion Ultimate Korean Fried Chicken Image “What I’m doing is food that I like to eat, and hopefully that everybody likes to eat,” she added. “It’s casual and fun. You don’t have to get dressed up, you can eat as much or as little as you like. You can come in for fried chicken and beer in the evening or you can come and have a more grand meal and spend a couple of hours there.” The opening and first few months of a restaurant can be a stressful time, but Judy is surprisingly relaxed about the future. “I’m just going to see where life takes me and where the wind blows me,” she said. “I don’t have these visions of grand ambition, I just want to create a business, have fun, do interesting things and work with great people.” She might not have any visions of grand ambition, but Judy would love to expand Jinjuu in the future. “This is a brand that I would love to see franchised and go around the world and to have multiple locations,” she said. Jinjuu opens on January 9 in Soho, London. The UK TV debut of her TV show Korean Food Made Simple follows on January 26. By Stuart Armstrong See Judy Joo in action:

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 30th December 2014

10 minutes with: Judy Joo