World Chefs: Judy Joo brings Korean flavors to home cooks

Riding the wave of global popularity of Korean cuisine, chef Judy Joo travels around her parents' homeland and adopts kimchi, pickled cabbage, and other local dishes for home cooks on her Cooking Channel TV show "Korean Food Made Simple."

Joo, a former Wall Street bond salesperson, will open her first restaurant, Jinjuu, in London later this year. The two-floor, 100-seat eatery, whose name means pearl in Korean, will showcase Korean and American street food.

It will be a departure from the upscale tasting menus of the Playboy Club London, where she spent nearly three years as executive chef.

The 39-year-old New Jersey native spoke to Reuters about her love of food, her career change and why Koreans have separate refrigerators for kimchi.

Q: What can viewers learn from your show?

A: It's about me traveling throughout Korea, to the south to the beaches, to the city to eat some street food ... gathering inspirations and taking them back to my home kitchen and cooking recipes that are simple and easy for the home cook.

Q: When did you know you no longer wanted to sell bonds?

A: I just realised I didn't have a passion for it. All of my free time in the weekends I was really excited to pick up food magazines and figure out what new restaurants opened up, what hot chefs were doing, and keeping up with the pulse of the restaurant world as opposed to the pulse of Wall Street.

Q: Did you have regrets about your career change?

A: I was making a fraction of what I made in the financial world. The hours are awful. You are working Saturday night ... I try not to glamourise it because it is a lot of hard work. But if you work hard, the money will come.

Q: For people already familiar with kimchi, what is another Korean ingredient you recommend to the American home cook?

A: Gochujang (a Korean chili paste) is a product of wonder. There is no reason why it can't be the next Sriracha or ketchup. I'm using it in all areas of my cooking. It's not just heat. It's spiced with deep complex flavors that come from the fermentation process.

Q: Do you make your own kimchi?

A: I don't make my own on a regular basis because it really smells. I don't want to make my refrigerator reek. That's why Koreans have kimchi refrigerators.

Cucumber Kimchi (four servings)

1 pound (454 grams) small Korean, Persian or Kirby cucumbers

1 tablespoon kosher salt or sea salt

4 scallions or spring onions, chopped into 2- to 3-inch pieces (5- to 7.5-centimeters)

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

1 small clove garlic

1-inch (2.5-centimeter) piece ginger

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon Korean chili flakes (gochugaru), or to taste

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon salted shrimp (saewoo jut)

15 chives, cut into 2-inch (5-centimeter) pieces

Using a small knife, cut each cucumber crosswise into 2-inch (5-centimeter) pieces. Stand the pieces on their cut sides. Cut each piece two-thirds of the way down into quarters lengthwise, keeping them attached at the bottom. Sprinkle the cucumbers with salt, making sure to stuff inside the cuts of the cucumbers. Place in a single layer on their cut sides in a glass or other non-reactive dish, cover, and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour to soften.

Meanwhile, prepare the chili paste mix. In a food processor combine all of the remaining ingredients except for the chives. Pulse until a coarse paste forms. Stir in the chives. Rinse the salted cucumbers very well under cold water, making sure to evacuate the crevices, and shake dry.

Spread open the cucumbers and using plastic gloves, stuff the chili mix into and around each piece generously. Place into a container, packed somewhat tightly, and press in any remaining chili paste and liquid. Seal tightly. Allow the cucumbers to ferment at room temperature for 24 hours. Refrigerate until ready to serve.