Q&A with Judy Joo

Judy Joo is one busy chef! Since leaving a comfortable job at Morgan Stanley to pursue her passion for cooking, she has skyrocketed up the cooking ladder. After graduating the French Culinary Institute, Judy landed an internship with Gordon Ramsay and was soon cooking in his restaurants. Her success and excellent personality landed her gigs as an Iron Chef on Iron Chef UK and as a judge on Iron Chef America, as well as hosting her own show, Korean Food Made Simple. We were wondering what makes this star of the culinary scene tick. When she kindly took some time to chat with us, we talked her favorite restaurants, the documentaries she peruses in her spare time, and an incredible project she started for schools in Harlem.

GGM: You’re a world renowned chef known for your work with Iron Chef UK, judging The Next Iron Chef, and hosting your own show, Korean Food Made Simple. So of course, we have to ask about your favorite restaurants. I understand you’re in New York right now, so what’s your favorite restaurant in the city?

JJ: My favorite restaurant, or where I’ve been eating lately?

GGM: You can do both!

JJ: I had a great meal at The Eddy the other night. I also ate at Torrisi, which was really, really good. Most notably, though, I went to ZZ’s Clam Bar and the Uni Toast is reason to go there alone. It’s to die for! One of the best things I’ve had in a long time! I had some good ramen at the Gotham Markets at Ivan Ramen. Yeah, I’ve been eating everywhere!

GGM: How about your favorite place in London?

JJ: My two favorite things to eat are Indian food and Arabic food. There are so many places and the ethnic food is delicious! The community is large, and the restaurants are fantastic. Everyone says the Indian food in London is practically better than the Indian food in India. I like places like Trishna, Gymkhana, Amaya. And even down in dirty places like Lahore Kebab House, which is my favorite. For Arabic food, I like Diaz if you’re going high end, and if you want every day shawarma or kebab, I really like Maroush chains. They get the job done.

Judy calls the uni toast at ZZ's Clam Bar the best thing she's had in a long time! Judy calls the uni toast at ZZ's Clam Bar the best thing she's had in a long time![/caption]

GGM: I understand you founded a project called “Harvest Time in Harlem”. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

JJ: Yes I did! Harvest Time in Harlem was an idea that I had when I was volunteering as a math tutor at The Children’s Storefront School in Harlem. At the same time, I was also volunteering at Slow Food USA. This was just when Alice Waters started the Edible Schoolyard project in Berkley, California and Slow Food in the Schools projects were sweeping the nation. In my desperation to teach one of my students math—he’d forgotten his books, pens, pencil, but he always remembered to bring a can of Coke—I picked up the can and started doing some numbers with the nutrition label on the back. I explained to him “There are 2.5 servings in here. You should only be drinking X amount of it. How many calories, how much sugar?” And he had no idea! A lot of the students were suffering from diabetes, joint pain, asthma.This school really was a gem, privately funded by organizations and donors solely in one of the most depressed areas of Manhattan. There isn’t a grocery store in sight. The kids deal with many different types of abuse on every level, every single day. My two interests are volunteer work and food, I was thinking this is a place where Slow Food in the Schools needs to be.

Judy combined her passion for food and volunteer work to bring healthy eating to Harlem schools.

Judy combined her passion for food and volunteer work to bring healthy eating to Harlem schools.[/caption] We started Harvest Time in Harlem which was their first true inner city Slow Food in the Schools project and it was an after school program for third and fourth graders where we told them not only about eating healthy but also where their food came from, which makes it different from other school lunch programs out there. Slow Food has always had a concentration in making people aware of Garden-to-Table concept, where the food grows, where it comes from. That connection to the land and farmers is really important. We brought farmers and fishermen in and took the kids out to gardens. By the end of the school year we had kids fighting over carrots and mustard greens when they wouldn’t even touch a vegetable before! Couldn’t even recognize them! We took them to Whole Foods in Columbus Circle and we might as well’ve been showing them planet Mars. They had no idea what anything was! We brought up corn on the cob, and nobody knew what it was! Cauliflower, broccoli, the same thing! These kids, even though they’re a taxi ride away, might as well have been a world away when it came to knowing where their food came from! We’d ask them funny questions, like “where does beef come from?” and they would say “Moose,” or “Where does honey come from?” and they would say “Bears.” There wasn’t much education when it came to that knowledge. We created a curriculum that would teach them about healthy food choices or how to cook.

GGM: Wow! That’s an awesome project! Shifting gears a bit, when I was watching your interview with Katie Couric, you said that when you were working at Morgan Stanley, you didn’t want to go home and read The Economist, you wanted to read cookbooks, so I was wondering what some of your favorite cookbooks were?

JJ: I would say I’ve always loved MFK Fisher, though she wasn’t really a cookbook writer, but she did do beautiful food writing. For cookbooks I gravitate towards, I would say the old school ones, like The Silver Spoon, Settlement Cookbook, some of the New York Times cookbooks. I do like Mark Bittman. I think he’s great. I would say Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa. Nick Malgieri. I love Alton Brown’s cookbooks. He’s one of my all-time favorites just because he has that science aspect to his writing. Cookwise by Shirley Corrihier, Harold McGee for The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. I just picked up Marc Forgione’s new book, which is beautifully done, beautifully shot. I have Roy Choi’s book, L.A. Son, as my bedside reading (laughs). Plus all the magazines. Food and Wine, Bon Appetit, everything!

GGM: You mentioned you were reading Roy Choi’s LA Son as your bedside reading, but do you read… non-cookbooks?

JJ: Oh yeah, definitely! (laughs) I read a lot of periodicals. The New Yorker is a go-to. I love Vanity Fair. I do like reading newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

GGM: I see! So continuing on the lifestyle bend of questions, obviously you’re famous from TV, but I was wondering, what are some shows you like to watch in your downtime?

JJ: Gosh, I really don’t watch a lot of TV. I really like documentaries.

GGM: Okay! What are some of your favorite documentaries?

JJ: I just saw Blackfish which is interesting. I saw the wine one called Somm. I tend to gravitate—this’ll make me sound so nerdy—towards the sort of cerebral things. I’ve been watching the History Channel a lot and I’ve been watching that show, Pawn Stars? I got into House of Cards for a bit. Haven’t watched Game of Thrones yet, but Breaking Bad was great. And of course, I keep up with the cooking shows.

GGM: What would be one cooking show that you admire?

JJ: I would say Alton Brown and Ina Garten.

GGM: Do you ever get a chance to listen to music? What sort of things?

JJ: Oh, yeah! I like the Killers a lot. I like alternative stuff. I’m an 80s child, so I love that genre. All that old school stuff, like Erasure and Depeche Mode. Thompson Twins, Duran Duran, Michael Jackson—any kind of 80s mix has my name on it! I also like rap a lot. I like Nelly, Jay-Z, Beyonce, J. Cole, Rita Ora.

GGM: What are one or two songs that you love, either of all time or right now?

JJ: I recently downloaded Magna Carta, Holy Grail by Jay-Z. That’s been on my iPod on constant replay. I do listen to a lot of classical music here and there. “Human” and “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers. I like Pink a lot. I like her lyrics, especially. I’m not sounding very cool right now!

GGM: Don’t worry about it! I think these artists are great. Now, I understand you love to ski. Where’s your favorite place to hit the slopes?

JJ: I like skiing in Europe a lot, just because the food is so much better! I go to all these chalets you can find tucked away and it’s so much fun! And I always get an instructor because I can’t find my way around the mountains. Verbier is probably one of my favorite places. I do like west coast skiing as well! I grew up skiing on the east coast in Vermont on ice and it wasn’t very nice. But when I lived in San Francisco, I went out to Tahoe all the time!

GGM: How about to sail?

JJ: British Virgin Islands for sure. I don’t like to sail in cold water. There’s a lot of serious sailing on the Isle of White, and I refuse because it’s so freaking cold!

GGM: I’m with you 100%! Judy, thank you so much. And I have to say, looking at all the food you make preparing for this interview has made me so hungry! I can’t wait to cook!

JJ: Thank you! Happy cooking!

You can catch Judy and the delicious food she makes on her Cooking Channel show, Korean Food Made Simple.

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