#THROWBACK Q+A: Food Network's Judy Joo Gives Us "Korean Food Made Simple"

Before her popularity in the US and UK on Food Network, before Iron Chef and Cooking Channel’s Korean Food Made SimpleJudy Joo worked on Wall Street. But it’s always act two that excites us…

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You took a chance by leaving Morgan Stanley and a steady paycheck for a culinary career. What had to happen so you were 100 percent convinced that you would make it in your second path?

I was never 100 percent convinced that I would “make it.”  I just knew that I wanted to and had to make the jump.  I credit my success to luck and hard work…. people underestimate how absolutely exhausting being a chef can be.  And, TV work is not that glamorous.  It is hard work.

You’ve been “one of the few participants to be a chef, judge and challenger” on the Iron Chef series in both the USA and UK editions. Which of these positions was the most fun for you?

Judging is the easiest and, therefore, the most fun.  I really just have to sit in one place, eat delicious food, and make up witty and pithy commentary.  It’s so fun.  I feel very fortunately to have a job that pays me to do that!

What do Europeans and Americans have all wrong about Korean food, and for those of us who are 0 percent Korean, how do we know if we are eating authentic Korean cuisine at a restaurant?

It is not about eating authentic Korean food.  It is more about enjoying good food with the flavors of Korea involved.  Food changes and evolves constantly.  Today’s invention is tomorrow’s tradition, so I do not get too hung up on authenticity.  As a rough gauge though, Korean food is vibrant, punchy, and full of bold flavors.  If you are eating something and it tastes quite muted or bland… chances are that it has been toned down a bit.

I am very familiar with Japanese and Chinese food, but I know very little about Korean food. What makes it special and separates it from other Asian cuisines?

Korea is geographically located in the middle between China and Japan, and it takes this middle ground in many ways. China is the France of Asia and is seen as the master of sauces and their cuisine showcases this forte.  Japan takes the opposite stance, and the raw ingredient is treasured and perfected (the best and freshest raw fish), therefore, the flavors can be quite subtle.  Korea is in the middle, where the cuisine boasts big flavors achieved though marinades as well as great ingredients.  Korea’s cuisine is also more grounded in fermentation.  With the cornerstones being kimchi (fermented cabbage), gochujang (chili paste), and dwengjang (soy bean paste).  So, the flavors are deep and complex and uniquely Korean.

What is one of your favorite recipes that the most unskilled loser on this planet could cook and not mess up? By this, I am usually referring to men who decide one day that they should cook for a fiancee or wife after years of strictly eating Domino’s Pizza.

For someone who cannot cook at all, I would say try keeping it simple.  Cook what you know and is familiar to you as well.  And, there is no harm in mixing pre-made with home “cooking.”

Start with a great salad, which is more about buying nice ingredients– nice greens, cherry tomatoes (yellow and red, some great crumbly goat cheese, some nuts or seeds on top.  Toss in some thinly sliced carrots (use a vegetable peeler), and some quartered breakfast radishes.  Fresh herbs such as chopped chives, and basil to finish.  Sprinkle with some toasted nuts or seeds.  Drizzle with great extra virgin olive oil, aged balsamic or a squeeze of lemon.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

For a main course, I would suggest making it interactive and cooking with your fiancée.  If you know pizza, make a pizza!  Pizza dough is super easy to make and you can buy the dough sometimes too in markets.  Tomato sauce is really easy too… or just buy a good one.  Purchase fresh cheese(s), fresh basil and oregano, and a cornucopia of toppings and you are all set.  now, you have a fun activity to engage in with pizza as the reward in the end!

For dessert– buy vanilla ice cream and homemade cookies or brownies.  heat up the cookie or brownie in the microwave, serve a la mode with fresh berries.

A celebrity chef told me with advice, “Some people are good at cooking, some are good at being on TV, some people just look good and very few are good at cooking on TV, even if they have a show on TV.” Yikes! He has a point – besides attempting to scare me to be sure I really wanted to do this, haha – in that just because you’ve made it on Food Network/Cooking Channel, you aren’t the only one there with all the TV chefs 24 hours a day. What do you do on your show so you don’t blend in with the other programs and rather, everyday people want to watch YOU?

People tune into my cooking show, Korean Food Made Simple on Cooking Channel, to learn about Korean food.  When I’m cooking competitively, I’m such a wild card and no one knows what I’m going to make, which is exciting.  I am a French trained, Korean-American Londoner, so I am pulling inspiration from all over the world to create dishes.  Also, when I am judging– my wealth of food knowledge is so expansive that I can comment insightfully on a dish no matter where its roots lie– from Thailand to New Orleans to Piedmonte to Kyoto.

You work for Shape Magazine! What better person to ask?  What is the dumbest thing women do to stay in shape, using food and exercise, that NEVER works in the end?

Fad diets never work and your weight ends up yo-yoing, which is never healthy.  Diets that claim quick results never last.  If you want to change your body forever you have to change your lifestyle.  Healthy eating habits must be formed with balance.  We are not perfect creatures and life is about creating memories.  So, do indulge once in a while.  But, like all things in life are you must maintain a balance.

This article originally appeared en español on my ELLE Spain blog.

ELLE Spain discontinued their freelance blog journalism program in 2016. I have republished it on NicoleRussinMcFarland.com once again so my journalism may live on. I am grateful for the experiences I had from 2011-2016 writing for my personal Spanish language blog, revista ELLE for providing the blog, and the time from all of my interviewees.