My Life In Food: Judy Joo

Born and raised in New Jersey, Korean-American chef Judy Joo studied engineering before embarking on a career in Wall Street. Realising her true calling lay in cooking, she enrolled at the French Culinary Institute in New York. In 2007 she moved to London to work for Gordon Ramsay, before opening a London restaurant of her own. Here, the television chef reveals her favourite London haunts, her party theme of choice and what she likes to make for a quick midweek meal…

The great art-deco highway diners of New Jersey will always hold a special place in my heart. Within these neon-signed temples lives one of Jersey’s greatest culinary claims to fame: disco fries – a wonderful, sinful dish of french fries slathered in brown gravy and gooey cheese. I always indulge in a plate when going back home, and finish with a sweet, tall slice of lemon meringue pie afterwards. Jersey at its best.

The first dish I learned to cook was Kraft Macaroni and Cheese when I was probably around four years old. You just boil the pasta, then mix milk and butter with an envelope of fluorescent-orange powdered cheese. It was so good. I still like it.
I have a few favourite restaurants I visit often. I love seafood and end up at Scott’s in Mayfair a lot, even just to sit at the bar and slurp down some oysters. I also adore La Petite Maison: the sommelier there, Andrea Fasan, is a gem. My local sushi place is Chisou, just off Bond Street, and it never disappoints. I also frequent Les 110 des Taillevent quite often. Chef Ross Bryans is so talented, and I’m addicted to the gougères there.

I really admire Rohit Ghai’s cooking and his take on upscale Indian flavours with a modern twist. I have been a long-time fan of his restaurants. He has so much passion for his work and his new place, Kutir, is gorgeous. I love his seabass kokum with coconut – it’s delicate and sublime. The fish is just kissed with curry leaves, giving this dish a wonderful, subtle fragrance.

The best place I’ve eaten recently is the newly renovated Tamarind. Every bite was exquisite and truly tasty. I’ll go back just for the grilled scallops.

My most memorable meal has to be Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York. I still swoon over the oysters and pearls dish. The handmade chocolates at the end are truly epic. They even give you a box so you can take them home to eat the next day.

I love The Coach Makers Arms in Marylebone. It’s my favourite gastropub. It’s all about having Guinness on tap.

Claridge’s has long been a haunt of mine. Denis Broci, the manager, used to have a drink named after me, the ‘JJ’. It’s a secret menu item now, which I still order. The base is tequila and it is rounded out with a hint of star anise. I can drink them all night.

The Coach Makers Arms
La Petit Maison

My go-to dish on a Sunday night is pan-fried seabass with soy and ginger, with a side of 17-grain rice, kimchi, and a fresh baby-spinach salad with cherry tomatoes. I love eating and cooking seafood, and seabass is so lovely and cooks very quickly. It’s also very healthy, yet full of flavour. I am also pretty much addicted to multigrain rice, and I’ll usually have some keeping warm in my rice cooker.

I am a huge fan of sushi. If you’re heading out on a date, you’ll be sure to impress with a reservation at Umu or Ikeda in Mayfair or Yashin in Kensington. I always order unaju, which is barbecued eel on rice. It is savoury and sweet and never disappoints.

I’m quite lazy, so after a long day at work, I usually make instant ramen noodles, specifically Shin Ramen. If I am feeling more spirited, I’ll make a rice bowl and top it off with whatever is leftover in my fridge. At home, I also drink a lot of Asian teas, usually green or ginseng. 

I live and shop in Marylebone. I like to go to La Fromagerie for cheese, The Ginger Pig for meat, Fish Works for seafood, and to the weekend farmers’ market for veggies. I always buy Isle of Wight tomatoes and a big bag of mixed wild mushrooms. 

My favourite dining companion is the new man in my life. I’m rather smitten!

If I’m entertaining at home, I’ll cook my signature dish. Korean barbecue short ribs with all the trimmings: two different kinds of kimchi, seasoned bean sprouts, spinach, soy-marinated black beans, pan-fried tofu, and fish fillets dipped in egg. I always serve lettuce leaves to wrap around the meat and a spicy chilli sauce called ssamjang. It’s always a hit.

Per Se

My dream dinner guests would be the Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, because she is so kick-ass and inspirational, and Amy Schumer, because she is absolutely, hysterically raw and real.

The secret to hosting a good dinner party is to curate a good cast of characters and fun people. Plan a simple, tasty menu with lots of crowd-pleasing foods, and make sure you have plenty of booze!

I throw a Mexican food party every so often and make everything from chilaquiles, pulled pork carnitas, tamales, tacos and more. I’ll invite people over for Sunday lunch, but everyone always stays well into the late evening hours.

My favourite grab-and-go dish has to be either a thin New York slice of pizza that you fold and eat, or a real NYC ‘Everything’ bagel with cream cheese, salmon, sliced tomato and red onion. In London, I really like Sourced Market on Wigmore Street. It does a cheese toastie made with sourdough and topped with kimchi. I also really like a tuna and sweetcorn jacket potato.

The one dish I’ll always order if I see it on the menu is dover sole. I can’t resist simple fish drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and kissed with fresh lemon.

My drink of choice used to be mezcal negronis, but I’ve recently moved onto gin. I’ll order gin and soda with lime these days. I love the bartenders at The Connaught and they have their own gin now, which is divine. 

For a quick midweek meal, I like kimchi fried rice with a gooey egg on top.

Les 110 De Taillevent

My idea of a perfect Sunday lunch is Chinese dim sum and roast duck, with lots of hot sauce.

The most decadent meal I’ve ever had is omakase at Sushi Yoshitake in Tokyo. It was the freshest and most delicate sushi I have ever had.  

My death-row dinner would be a few different courses. I’d start with top quality sushi, followed by a plate of pasta served with white truffles from Alba and Oscietra caviar. Finally, I’d eat a bubbling bowl of fresh handmade tofu seafood stew, called soondubu jiggae.

My food hell? I really abhor eating insects. Why subject yourself to that?

Judy Joo’s Korean Soul Food: Authentic Dishes And Modern Twists is out now


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