Jinjuu’s chef offers advice about changing careers and making dreams come true
I already know the world is a small place, but when I sat down to chat with Chef Judy Joo, I didn’t even need to count to six to get to the degrees of separation. Joo grew up in a New Jersey hamlet (the same one I lived in for 14 years!), and her sister was my friend’s roommate at Yale. (Crazy coincidence, right?) We sat down and chatted about her life as the chef at Jinjuu, her creation of modern Korean fare that is unique and beloved in Hong Kong, and the advice she has for other women who want to follow their dreams, even if it means quitting their careers mid-stride and going for it (just like she did!)…
You sound like the all-American girl. How has your upbringing influenced your cooking? And who taught you how to cook Korean food?
My mother taught me how to cook Korean food. She was always cooking and I have many strong food memories from my childhood. I meld my multicultural upbringing into my cooking and this influence is very apparent in my style of cooking. Jinjuu’s menu has many multicultural dishes, such as Korean Tacos, Philly Cheesesteak Mandoo, and Korean NY Cheesecake.
From the Ivy League, to finance and finally to Iron chef, how’d a nice Jersey Girl like you end up opening a restaurant in LKF?
Luck and serendipity has always played a role in shaping people’s lives. I am no different. I never thought that I would be where I am today. You just can’t plan life. And, when opportunity knocks, you have to answer.
You went from one male-dominated field (finance) to another. What advice do you have for women who want to make a name for themselves?
As women, we have to work twice as hard and have very thick skin to make it in our male-dominated environments. We have to be brave and work smarter than our male counterparts, as, unfortunately, glass ceilings still do exist. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you deserve and aim high. We are all pioneers making it easier for the next generation to follow.
Also, embrace the failure. There’s so much failure marked in success.
Do you have any regrets? If not, do you have any cautionary tales you’ve learned from?
I try not to regret, but I have made mistakes, and any successful career is full of failure. Failure is an integral part of success. Cautionary tale? Just try to surround yourself with good people and those you can trust. Make good friends and have good mentors. You’ll need all the help and advice you can get along the way.
Who was your mentor?
Dorothy Cann Hamilton, the founder of my cooking school, was a dear friend and mentor. Sadly, she died in a car crash last year. She always taught me to be formidable, to have integrity and to enjoy life and to smile. She also taught me not to sweat the small stuff… life is too short.
How did you get started?
I got my first big break from Janice Gabriel, a television producer. We met at a party and spoke. I had no idea she was a producer, but she ended up putting me on her show, Market Kitchen in the U.K. She embraced me because I was a female chef.
What advice do you have for women who want to change their careers mid-stride and follow their dreams?
Go for it! Know that it is hard work, but in the end, it’s worth it. It is a cliché, but life is too short to not do what you love. Not everyone has the luxury to pursue their dreams, so if you can, why not?
What are your favourite places to eat in Hong Kong when you’re not at Jinjuu?
My friend always takes me to Luk Yu Tea House for breakfast on one of the coveted upper floors. I love the old school feel of the décor and the generations of loyal clientele. Mott 32 is a favourite as well, with its slick design and tasty modern dishes. The dumplings at Mak’s Noodles are also on my must have list when I come back, as well as Tim Ho Wan. Duddell’s is another stylish place tha I like to fequent. And, I like the cocktails at Stockton and The Woods. I hope to hit the Lobster Bar in the Island Shangri-La, too, this trip.
What’s your go-to meal for comfort food?
Korean food is my ultimate comfort food. A bubble hot bowl of Soon Dubu Jiggae (spicy silken tofu stew) hits the spot every time.
What do you like to do at the weekend?
I try to be as active as I can. I play tennis once a week, do pilates and have a personal trainer. I hope to be able to enjoy a hike in Hong Kong at some point on this trip. I also like to go out with friends and once in a while I have been known to binge a Netflix series or two (Narcos and House of Cards are favourites!).
For Korean food newbies, what dishes would you recommend trying first?
Noodles and dumplings are always the most accessible. Not too spicy and very “easy to understand.”
Got any recipes you can share with us?
Prawns in Chili with Asparagus
12 asparagus spears, trimmed
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
½ lemon sea salt
10-12 prawns, cleaned tails on
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely diced, or grated on a microplane
½ shallot, finely diced
½ green chili, deseeded, finely chopped
½ red chili, deseeded, finely chopped
1 tsp chopped chives
garnish with red amaranth and chervil (optional)
½ green chili, finely sliced
In a frying pan, drizzle the vegetable oil in and bring up to high heat. Toss in the asparagus spears and cook until blistered and softened, about 3-4 minutes. Finish with sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. Keep warm.
In a non-stick skillet, sauté the garlic and shallots in the olive oil until just softened. Add the prawns and sauté, after about 1 min, add the red and green chilies. Toss in the chopped chives. Cook until just done and tip on to a plate to stop the cooking, finish with sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. Place the asparagus on a plate and top with the prawns. Garnish with fresh chili slices, red amaranth and chervil.
(For more delicious Judy Joo recipes, click here.)