The market was a mix of smells, full of people in the early morning. Teeming with all walk of life, young, old, men and women, rich and not, it was exactly what we were looking for. The aromas of food being cooked along the sidewalk filled the crisp winter air. It wasn’t cold, but you knew it was winter — the sun was setting early, the sky was a blue/grey color and tall of the leaves had fallen off the trees. Nearby, an earthy smell of boiled silkworms, beondegi, it is a smell that stays with you, I’ll never forget it.
We had been in Seoul for just a few days, and already we knew that South Korea was an overlooked food destination. As travellers to Asia tend to head towards Japan or Thailand to dine, Korea holds true to itself, it’s history and traditions without much fanfare it seems. My trip introduce me to alot of dishes that you rarely find outside the country like kalguksu or an amazing sangytang. Two dishes that stand out in my mind. We had come to visit a couple of friends, to eat and explore what the country had to offer and since then, I’ve had a small fascination with Korean food.
When I heard that Judy Joo, the acclaimed chef and cook of Korean and American descent was openingher first restaurant in London I was intrigued and interested to see what she would bring to the Asian dining scene in town.
Jesse Dart catches up with Judy to ask her a few questions before today’s opening.
JD: A lot of diners in the UK are familiar with Asian foods like Thai, Chinese, Japanese, etc. but might not be too familiar with Korean Foods (apart from perhaps BBQ). Do you think there is a learning curve for Korean food in the UK? Or do you think that people are generally curious about trying new foods from different parts of the world?
JJ: I don’t really think that there is a steep learning curve for Korean Food. Many of the ingredients are familiar and the Brits love spices—look how popular Indian food is in the country. Everyone is different when it comes to trying new food. Some people like to just stick to steak and potatoes. I feel that everything in life should be exciting—even the food that you eat!
JD: Moving from the world of finance to the world of cooking, did you find many similarities between the two? The fast paced life, the stress or the way in which your team worked together on a project? Do you think that finance and being a chef have a lot in common?
JJ: I actually wrote a piece on this topic for the Wall Street Journal awhile ago. To quote from that, “There are differences, of course, in the two professions. Trading floors can be heartless places, where money is often the sole motivating factor. Very few people there actually love what they do; rather, they love the lifestyle it makes possible. On the other hand, people who work in kitchens are driven purely by passion — the pure love of cooking and the satisfaction of creating something memorable.”
JD: When was your “ah-ha” moment? That point in time when you realized that you definitely wanted to move into cooking and away from finance?
JJ: I had an epiphany of some kind. I was working such crazy hours and really just didn’t love the world of finance. Reading Barron’s, the Economist, etc was becoming a chore. I didn’t want to slave away doing a job that I did not love anymore. I decided that life was too short. So I quit to chase a dream doing something that I was passionate for. I never thought it would go.
JD: Working on your new restaurant in London, did you take inspiration from current food and dining trends in the UK for small sharing plates, etc. or did you look back to Korea for inspiration on the menu and dining experience? What do you think the differences are between the two countries and what diners expect when they eat out?
JJ: I gathered my inspiration from both Korea and America. “Anju” in Korean refers to all of the small dishes that you eat while you drink, which is the concept of my ground floor menu. Koreans like sharing and having variety in a meal. There are not 3 courses per se, like in western dining. The idea of sharing platters and food is making waves in the western world though, as it is a fun way to eat and each bite becomes bespoke.
JD: Something we ask a lot ofChefs at FOUR is what kind of music or artists do you listen to in the kitchen? What music keeps you going?
JJ: We have an open kitchen so the music in the restaurant is what we groove to. Our playlist was carefully curated. Plus we have a DJ that feeds into the kitchen as well (it is an open kitchen we have speakers over the pass). Some of the artists are Clara Hill, Blue Six, Satin Jackets Disclosure, and Dego. It’s very chill Café Del Mar style stuff.
Judy’ new restaurant JinJuu openstoday.
15 Kingsly Street
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