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Chef Ambassador Judy Joo

Featured photo by Mark Edward Harris

No stranger to TV, Chef Judy Joo used to battle fierce competitors on ‘Iron Chef UK.’ Now she’s back on the small screen, introducing Korean cuisine to the masses on the cooking channel’s ‘Korean Food Made Simple.’

story by NAMJU CHO

David Chang did it with his slow-cooked pork bossam. Roy Choi did it with his galbi taco. And now, Judy Joo may be next in line to bring Korean-inflected flavors to the gourmet masses. Boricha (barley tea) sourdough, anyone? How about some of her kimchi carnitas French fries?

Joo is certainly poised to make this happen.

The 39-year-old, classically trained chef not only has the pedigree as the first and only female Iron Chef from the UK edition of the popular TV cooking competition, but she also enjoys something that superstar chefs Chang and Choi did not have before they hit the big time. Earlier this year, the London-based Korean American debuted her TV show, Korean Food Made Simple, on the Cooking Channel. It’s the first series dedicated to Korean cuisine for a mainstream American cable television channel. In its debut season, it was one of the top-5-rated, non-primetime shows on the Food Network spinoff.

The series follows the popular travelogue and cooking format of Jose Andres’ Made in Spain on PBS and Tyler Florence’s The Ultimate on the Food Network, in which the host draws inspiration from the bustling food stalls and fish markets overseas, and then returns to a home kitchen to make a dish inspired by the experience.

On Korean Food Made Simple, Joo gets a chance to travel to some off-the-beaten-path parts of Korea — places she says even her immigrant parents have never even been to — as she introduces viewers to experts in haemool pajeon (scallion pancake with seafood), kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew) mandu (dumplings) and even gimbap (rice rolls) making. Many of the establishments she visits are holes in the wall, with old ladies who have been cooking there for decades imparting their techniques — and aren’t shy about sometimes critiquing hers.

F-Judy-AS14-Korea1Joo in a rural village, where she gets to help make dubu (tofu) for her show Korean Food Made Simple, which takes her to off-the-beaten-path parts of Korea. (Blink Films/Media Story 9 Production)

In an episode about dubu (tofu), Joo is seen stirring massive vats of the piping hot soy beans with a group of halmeonis in the countryside of Korea. “It was really fun. They ask you to call them imo (auntie),” says Joo. “Every time I asked why they were doing something a certain way, they were like, ‘That’s just the way it is.’”

When Joo started to stir the dubu in the wrong direction — it’s supposed to be clockwise  the imos wasted no time in setting her straight. “It took longer than usual to make the dubu, and they blamed it on the stirring,” Joo says, chuckling.

Back in her home kitchen in London, Joo demonstrates for viewers how to make a dubu salad, featuring pan-fried dubu rectangles with a Korean-inspired vinaigrette of soy sauce, gochujang, sesame oil and scallions.

She is unapologetic about creating shortcuts or substituting ingredients as she makes Korean food “simple” for her viewers (“Cooking vegetables separately for japchae to keep the integrity of the vegetables or cutting things in the right shape — it’s very labor intensive,” she says. “I take shortcuts because I don’t have time.”).

Joo is also mindful that many in the show’s audience are being introduced to this cuisine for the first time.

“People have a genuine curiosity, which is nice,” says Joo. “[But] in 99 percent of America, this is the first glimpse into Korea and Korean food. So we tailor it to make the food as inviting and easy as possible.”

Purists might take issue with the series because of that tailoring, but Joo considers it “Korean Food 101.” She believes she brings authenticity by using decidedly Korean ingredients, and is staying true to her mission: “to spread the flavors of Korean food, and make it one of those global cuisines like Chinese or Mexican food that everyone knows about.” Joo wants classic ingredients such as duenjang (fermented soy bean paste that she describes as “miso paste on steroids”) and gochujang (red pepper paste) to become as common in the layperson’s culinary lexicon as wasabi or guacamole.

Perhaps the ultimate endorsement for the show’s authenticity lies in the fact that the South Korean government, as part of a campaign to promote Korean cuisine globally, is the primary sponsor of Korean Food Made Simple.

F-Judy-AS14-DosirakJoo with a dosirak maker on her show Korean Food Made Simple. (Blink Films/Media Story 9 Production)

Born and raised in Summit, New Jersey, with no Korean markets nearby, Joo probably never imagined she would one day become a Korean food ambassador. The daughter of a chemist mother and physician father, she was more interested in studying science — she admits today she still geeks out on science magazines. Once you dig deeper, however, her career doesn’t seem as far-fetched, considering her food-centric upbringing, as she watched her mother prepare dishes at home—often summoning her two daughters to help. The matriarch used to grow her own chilies in the family’s garden and dry them to make gochugaru (Korean red pepper). She also grew kennip (perilla leaves), which Joo was often tasked to pick.

The kennip used to prick my fingers,” recalls Joo, who also used to help her mom make large quantities of kimchi in an old baby tub.

In college, Joo pursued her scientific interests, studying industrial engineering and operations research at Columbia University. While in New York, though, she was introduced to the intriguing, fast-paced world of Wall Street and, after graduation, would work as a fixed income derivatives trader, energized by the job’s frenetic pace and earning a comfortable income. After five years of the same, she found herself spending more time leafing through cookbooks and cooking magazines instead of reading Barron’s and The Economist, and realized it was time for a major career and life change.

She left the trading floor and enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York. She graduated in 2004 at the top of her class.

She spent the first few years after culinary school working at the test kitchen for Saveur magazine in New York, developing recipes and researching food traditions. She also got involved in what she calls her “proudest moment as a chef,” running a program for a Harlem-based school in partnership with the nonprofit organization Slow Food USA, which aimes to educate inner-city children about making healthy food choices.

“It was about teaching underprivileged kids about food and where it comes from, changing food habits for life. I showed the kids broccoli and corn on the cob, and nobody knew what they were.

“Slow food needs to be in schools like this.”

Joo later relocated with her then-partner to London, where she eventually landed a job at celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s eponymous restaurant. She worked in the kitchen part-time, while also ghost writing a cookbook for mentor and friend Jason Atherton, formerly with Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant group.

In 2007, she became a full-time pastry chef and also worked at Ramsay’s other restaurants, including Maze, Claridge’s, Petrus and Boxwood Café.

Joo notes that professional cooking isn’t as “glamorous” as it sounds.

“It’s physically exhausting,” she says. “You’re standing on your feet for eight hours straight and on the job 10 hours a day, [sometimes] well over 12 hours a day. You need support stockings and special shoes, and your back starts to hurt.”

But Joo would have to stand up to more than just physical exhaustion when in 2010, she got her big break to become one of four UK Iron Chefs.

“It was the most stressful thing I’ve ever done in my life,” says Joo.

F-Judy-AS14-IronChefUK1Joo was the sole female Iron Chef on the UK version of the popular TV cooking competition.

She was the sole female of the four Iron Chefs, which included Sanjay Dwivedi and Michelin star-winning chefs Tom Aikens and Martin Blunos, and had the least experience. Yet, she was able to channel the former Wall Street trader in her who regularly confronted intense stress on the testosterone-laden bond trading floor, as she duked it out on the “kitchen stadium” set.

The televised, over-the-top cooking competition that pits one of the Iron Chefs against a team of four challengers was adapted from a Japanese franchise and is known for throwing rare and unconventional ingredients at accomplished chefs. They are challenged to come up with multiple dishes using the “secret ingredient”; a prominent panel of judges then tastes and critiques the dishes.

The most challenging battle for Joo: calf’s liver.

“Disgusting,” she says. “It’s so big, bloody and vascular.” But Joo made it work by fusing different elements of her background — Korean heritage, American sensibility and French culinary training—into her food. She prepared a savory calf’s liver parfait using sweet wines and bacon onion cream; calf’s liver bibimbap, a take on the popular mixed Korean rice dish; and calf’s liver kalguksu, a comforting hand-cut noodle dish in broth.

The exposure helped her land the executive chef position at the Playboy Club London, where she led the kitchen from 2011 to 2014. Though the bar featured a “big-boy” menu, which celebrated American classics like burgers and steaks, Joo managed to leave her mark with distinct items like bulgogi buns, halibut served on top of kimchi fried rice, and kimchi carnitas French fries.

“We took kimchi bokkeum (stirfried kimchi), curd cheese and slow cook the pork for 48 hours,” Joo says, describing the preparation of the kimchi carnitas fries.

Boasting a longstanding relationship with the Food Network, Joo has also appeared as a judge on the network’s Iron Chef America and The Next Iron Chef. While judging the latter, Joo notably recorded a promo in which she said she fully expects to have no less than 12 “foodgasms.” (She got them.)

Now Joo herself may be delivering some foodgasms to viewers through Korean Food Made Simple. Audience response has been overwhelmingly positive so far, she says, and the Cooking Channel has already renewed the series for another season.

“I had people emailing me saying they wanted to visit Korea or that they didn’t realize that Korea is a modern, vibrant country with super-cool nightlife,” says Joo. “My neighbors in London went to Korea after seeing my show.

“What actually gives me pleasure is when people send me [a picture of] what they cooked at home using my recipe.”

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Photo by Mark Edward Harris

Before filming starts on the second season of Korean Food Made Simple, Joo is busy working on two big projects: writing a cookbook due out in 2016 and opening her very own restaurant, Jin Juu, (Korean for “pearl”) in London later this year.

“It will be the first Korean restaurant in London that brings Korean food to the masses in an upscale, cool and fashionable way,” she says.

Starting with about 30 name choices, Joo whittled them down to a few and, after consulting with her investors and staff, Jinju came out on top. When they learned that Jinju’s copyright was taken, however, they tweaked it to be written as “Jin Juu,” which happens to coincide with Joo’s Korean first name, Jin, and her surname, Romanized differently.

The restaurant will be serving her eclectic brand of Korean American-inspired dishes. “Stuff I like to eat, like Korean fried chicken,” she says. “The ground floor is based around anju style (bar food) eating, serving Korean mini burgers, pajeon, japchae.

Joo admits she’s both nervous and excited about the new venture, which like Korean Food Made Simple, seeks to “bring real Korean flavors to the masses in a very inviting and fashionable way.

“Jin Juu is going to be a very sexy, cool restaurant,” she adds. “[I want it to be] a fun, comfortable, casual yet highend experience with great food, friends and drinks. We will even have a DJ three nights a week.”

F-Judy-AS14-Korea2Joo at an organic tea plantation in Boseong. (Blink Films/Media Story 9 Production)

Though she took a meandering path to her current career, Joo has clearly found that her passion lies in food and encourages other Korean Americans to follow their heart. Joo notes that her mother initially couldn’t fathom her daughter’s decision to drop a well-paying job at Morgan Stanley to pursue what she considered a hobby. But she eventually came around to the idea of professional cooking after Joo was invited to the South Korean presidential residence, the Blue House, as a delegate for a cultural conference preluding the G20 Summit in 2010. Joo adds that both her parents love her cooking show, and were “quite chuffed” to see themselves on TV.

“The hardest thing growing up was realizing that there are other options than being a doctor,” says the chef. “[Anchorwoman] Connie Chung was the only person who looked like me on TV. This generation is lucky that there are more Korean Americans doing crazy things in traditionally non-respected fields like acting and entertainment that didn’t give parents bragging rights. I think the younger generation should not be scared to pursue something they want to, if they have a passion for it.”

This article was published in the August/September 2014 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the August/Sept. issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).



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South Koreans Consume More Coffee Than Rice

by REERA YOO

South Koreans now drink more coffee than they eat their staple food rice, according to a survey conducted by the Korea Centers for Disease Control of 3,805 adults, according to The Chosun Ilbo.

According to the 2013 survey, the average Korean drinks coffee 12.3 times per week, followed by eating kimchi 11.8 times, multigrain rice 9.5 times, and white rice seven times per week.

The proportion of rice in Koreans’ daily diet has steadily declined over the past decade whereas coffee-related calorie intake has quadrupled due to the amount of artificial sweeteners in coffee, reported The Korea Herald.

Over the past few years, coffee culture has been going strong in South Korea. Earlier this year, Seoul was named as the city with the most Starbucks locations, beating New York City and Los Angeles. In addition, it was reported last month that Starbucks in Korea costs twice as much as it does in the U.S.

 

Photo via The Korea Herald

Mealworms

Mealworms on Pizzas: Packed With Protein and Crunch

by JAMES S. KIM

Everyone makes a fuss over anchovies on pizza, but there have been worse toppings. I mean, sweet potatoes? That doesn’t fly for this Korean foodie/fattie (interchangeable). You want to make this dish even heavier?

But if a creepy-crawly topping is what you’re looking for, you may want to give South Korea a visit in the coming months. Mealworms, larvae of mealworm beetles and normally produced as pet food, will be available in South Korean food products as early as next month–and on tops of pizzas.

According to the Wall Street Journal, this is a part of a government effort to help grow the domestic insect industry (because, in case didn’t you hear, everyone has a domestic insect industry). This includes cultivating insects for pest control, pollinating and, of course, eating.

Mealworms in particular, however, have high protein content along with natural minerals and healthy unsaturated fats. They also apparently taste good in foods other than pizza.

“We already had a public tasting of pizzas, pasta, porridge and a juice made or added with mealworms last month. And to my surprise, responses were pretty good. Many people liked them,” said Yun Eun-young, a researcher at the state-run academy.

So maybe it’s not a stretch of the imagination to see mealworms become a mainstream food product in South Korea, where beondegi (steamed or boiled silkworm pupae) and grasshoppers are regularly consumed as street food. We can also assume that mealworms are much more natural than the pink gold known as Spam, although that probably won’t stop anyone from buying it.

Edible insects are expected to become a significant protein source by 2050, when total meat production may need to be doubled to feed a growing human population. Insects are easier and cheaper to cultivate than livestock, with similar levels of calorie and protein. Shades of Snowpiercer, am I right?

Image via Wall Street Journal

Spam

Spam Is Premium, Even If It Doesn’t Make You Feel Like It

by JAMES S. KIM

Pretty much every year around this time, you’ll hear about how spam is a big thing in Korea. We enjoy it (hopefully sparingly) over here in the States, too, so what’s the big deal about the pink substance?

This upcoming Monday is Chuseok, also known as the Korean Thanksgiving, and according to the Wall Street Journal, Koreans spent $354 million on Spam last year. Just for this Chuseok season, 3.1 million Spam gift sets (these do exist) were released into the market.

For those who have a hard time with numbers, like this writer, think of it this way: Spam ranks alongside premium beauty products, fine cuts of beef and imported wine in South Korea.

That’s right. For every new bottle of a magical BB cream or such, someone is looking just as hard for cans of Spam. Ebay Korea said that canned ham gift sets, including Spam, were the second-highest selling gift item in August, after body and beauty sets. Priorities, am I right?

So why the obsession with Spam? Most of us have heard the story: The American military introduced Spam to Korea during the Korean War, and since meat was scarce, Spam was often the go-to product for a starving population. Somewhere along the line, budae jjigae, or literally “army stew,” came into existence with Spam and/or hot dogs as the staple ingredients. Throw in some cultural nostalgia, and you have Spam to go along with the han.

But there are plenty of modern reasons that keep Spam relevant in Korean society and stomachs. This year, for example, Chuseok is a bit earlier than usual, which puts into question the availability and prices of fresh food.

More people also live alone these days, and in order to minimize waste and save time in preparing food, they’ll turn to canned food. Mothers are also busier than ever before, and Spam allows them to prepare a quick breakfast or packed lunch. Koreans are also increasingly taking up camping, and as they are surely finding out, canned food always tastes better in the wilderness.

CJ CheilJedang, the food branch of the parent CJ company, produces official Spam under license. To keep their product relevant for young people, it is also backing a smartphone app that prevents spam messages. The slogan reads “Block Spam messages/calls with Whosecall, and eat delicious Spam.” CJ’s television divisions also have plenty of product placement.

So whether you’re going to work on Monday, celebrating Chuseok with your family or perhaps even camping, have no qualms in including Spam with your meals. Koreans don’t care–except, ironically, in making sure that their Spam isn’t the same as the one in America. Korean Spam doesn’t include tendons, tiny bones and blood vessels, but in the end, it all tastes the same…right?

Image via Wall Street Journal

roychoi

Roy Choi to Launch Healthy, Affordable Fast Food Chain

by JAMES S. KIM

Is there anything this man isn’t doing?

In his latest culinary venture, chef Roy Choi is partnering up with San Francisco chef Daniel Patterson to launch a new chain of fast food restaurants called Loco’l. The chefs made the announcement on Monday at MAD4, the fourth annual Copenhagen conference for chefs, cooks and farmers.

“We want to go toe to toe with fast food chains and offer the community a choice,” Choi told Inside Scoop SF.

“Price point, culture, design, hospitality, relevance and most of all flavor. We will be using all our sciences and knowledge and sixth sense as restaurateurs/chefs to create a concept people love and a menu they crave, but keep it all in the pocket, keep it all affordable and delicious, and speak to what the people want.”

All items on the menu will range from $2-$6 in order to compete with places like McDonald’s and Burger King. The recipes will be prepared by Patterson, who owns the Coi in San Francisco and has appeared on PBS’s Mind of a Chef. According to LA Eater, dishes will include burgers made with a beef and tofu mixture, salads, rice bowls, and “cross-cultural” items like falafel and tacos–the latter of which Choi knows a thing or two about.

For the lucky NorCal folk, Choi and Patterson plan to open the first Loco’l branch in San Francisco in spring 2015, and Los Angeles will get its own a few months later.

“High-level chefs have an opportunity to do much more than just cook for the few people who can afford it,” Patterson said in a blog post on the MAD website. “We can create real change, in this case, by building a better business. As much as thoughtful articles and speeches and books are important in shifting how we think, they are not going to solve the food problems we have in our country.

“If we can open profitable restaurants that are inexpensive and serve delicious food made with real ingredients; if we bring new options to places that currently lack quality food; if we cook with heart; if we create an environment of warmth, generosity and caring; if we value the people with less money just as much as the ones with plenty, we can make a difference.”

At last year’s MAD conference, Choi emphasized social responsibility among chefs to bring delicious, healthy food to people in need. And as busy as he’s been, especially with the recently opened Commissary restaurant at the Line Hotel in Koreatown, where he also has Pot, Pot Cafe and Pot Bar, the chef appears to be doing his part to carry out that vision.

Last year, Choi opened the 3 Worlds Cafe in South Central Los Angeles, which is often referred to as a food desert because of the lack of healthy food options available in the area. With its fresh juices, smoothies and coffee the goal was to bring healthy, delicious options to a place where chefs and restaurants normally kept away from, as well as provide a place for local youth to frequent.

Choi said Loco’l was the beginning of a “ripple movement,” and like the inspiration for its name, it’s going to be crazy.

“Loco–we are crazy to do this and you’re crazy to believe it,” he said. “Local–it’s about the community and everyone, not just the ones that can afford it. Loco’l.”

Snacks

Buzzfeed: Trying Korean Snacks For The First Time

by JAMES S. KIM

It’s no question that Korean snacks are the business, and they take the spotlight in Buzzfeed’s latest food venture. A panel of Americans tried a variety of drinks and munchies one would find in their local Korean supermarket for the first time, and for the most part, they seemed to enjoy them.

The lineup of snacks included the sweet nectar that is Milkis, to the wonderful squid and peanut ball and tteok (rice cake). One panelist confused red bean for peanut butter, but that’s somewhat forgivable.

Has anyone tried the fish sausage? We like our fish and odeng, but we’ve never had it in that form. This panelist’s reaction doesn’t give us much reassurance:

Snack4 copy

Check out our own taste test of Korean chips and Korean ice cream bars if you might need any guidance in exploring a whole new world of flavors and calories.

Block Party

We’re Giving Away Free Tickets To The K-Town Night Market & OC Block Party

We weren’t the only ones to have a blast at the first K-Town Night Market in April. Lots of people did. So many, in fact, that organizers are doing another one—this time, down in Orange County. On Aug. 22 and 23, Korean/Asian food vendors and trucks (Seoul Sausage!), entertainers (David Choi! Jason Yang! B-Boys!) and thousands of attendees will gather at Angel Stadium for two nights of belly-filling revelry. While we’re a little sad the event isn’t actually in Koreatown this time, the venue is a major upgrade in terms of parking and breathing room.

KoreAm has partnered with the folks at K-Town Night Market & OC Block Party to give away free passes to the first 250 readers who use the promo code “koream” on the event’s ticket page. One ticket per person, per email. Can’t wait to see you there!

More info about the event can be found on its Facebook page.

A video from the last K-Town Night Market:

And some photos from last time to make you hungry:

Ramen-Burger
takoyaki
koreanbbq

Photos via K-Town Night Market & OC Block Park

noodle_machines

VIDEO: How Ramen Noodles Are Made

by JAMES S. KIM

If MacGyver were reincarnated as a food item, he would be ramen. The ramen noodle is quite possibly the most versatile food that can be “reinvented” in a variety of ways. These include the famous ramen burger, the ramen noodle grilled cheese sandwich, the “Ramenrrito” (ramen + burrito) and the somewhat forcing-the-issue ramen-crusted chicken nuggets.

But many purists would say ramen in its original form is the best.

New Jersey-based Sun Noodles provides the essential ingredient to a bowl of ramen: the noodles. Potluck Video records the process of what goes into the production, from choosing the proper ingredients to how it is created and packaged away to be eaten by some lucky restaurateur.

The factory churns out over 20,000 servings of noodles a day, made from 40,000 lbs of flour a day. While the noodles aren’t crafted in the traditional manner by hand, the same care and attention to detail starts at the very beginning.

Kenshiro Uki describes how the initial mixing period is important, where “each particle of flour hits each particle of water.” Once that mixture reaches a certain temperature, it is pressed and then cut into over 150 different combinations of noodles based on thickness and consistency, including a few you can see on the Sun Noodle website.

Koreans might see a similarity to how kalguksu is prepared. Kalguksu, which translates to literally “knife noodles,” is also made from wheat flour and, as the name suggests, is cut up before being prepared. It’s completely different from the rock-hard, squiggly squares that come paired with a packet of soup base.

You can view the behind-the-scenes video at Sun Noodles below.

Image via Ramen Udon Noodle 101