JEAN CAZALS shoots with Judy Joo

New Book 'Korean Food Made Simple’ 

Photography by Jean Cazals

"To understand the food, you must understand the country”.

When Jean Cazals was asked to work with Korean-American chef Judy Joo there was one immediate priority: to visit her native Korea. "When the book was commissioned I said to Judy, we have to give the flavour of the country to the people who read it. So we went there for ten days and it was brilliant." They travelled from the capital Seoul to Busan in the south, to the mountains, the coast, to bustling fish markets and streets packed with traders. "You only grasp the feeling of a place when you eat there".

Away from the brutal architecture and the concrete anonymity of the Korean metropolis, the flavours sprang to life: the spicy kimchi, the firey chillies, the salty fresh crabs and fragrant herbs. "We went to a famous monastery in the west - it was beautiful, and we went through the whole experience of eating with the monks. 

Along with an understanding of Joo's hertitage, there was a real appreciation of her struggle to gain acceptance, let alone respect, after her radical change of career.

"Yes, she was a banker - but so what? She worked for Gordon Ramsey, at Saveur magazine, she's clever and able to manage working in food and business. She's had to deal with so much negativity, but now she's doing so well.”

From a love of food born from watching her mother cook as a child, Joo quit her well paid banking job and enrolled at the French Culinary Institute in New York, before two years working across the Gordon Ramsey group and a move into television, competing and then judging in the 'Iron Chef' series, in London and the US. With all this, plus restaurants in London and Hong Kong, it's hard to imagine how she finds enough hours in the day.

Cazals is clearly impressed; not just by Joo herself, her drive and sheer dedication - but by her state-of-the-art home kitchen where they shot the recipes for the book. "She must have the biggest cooker in a private residence in the whole of Great Britain!"  They needed a crane to bring it into the house. It's like a completely professional setup.”

The book, 'Korean Food Made Simple', is full of more than a hundred recipes combining the robust flavours and traditional foods of her homeland with fresh, modern techniques. "The food she's doing has Japanese and American flavours - she grew up in New Jersey, after all. She wanted to explore where she came from but this book gives so much more variety than you'd find back in Korea."

They worked in Joo's kitchen, along with a small team - "There was a food stylist from New York, a props stylist from London, a Korean guy chopping and peeling and Judy of course. It was fun!" The fewer people involved, the better: Cazals could concentrate on those tiny details which turn a photograph into perfection. "In a restaurant, the chef makes something, it's constantly moving from the pass to the table to the customer, you eat it. In a photograph, it's not going anywhere so everything has to be spot on.”

The book covers everything from the vegetable and rice bowl known as bibimbap and crispy chunks of fried chicken, to spicy pork belly, noodles, all kinds of sauces and desserts. "It's all authentic with a twist. Judy really gives it some style - she knows how to look outside the box, how to be bold and exciting at the same time."

The reportage of their trip weaves like a travelogue throughout the book: the colours, the smells, the heat of the spices almost bounce off the page. It's not hard to see why Joo and Cazals have now become firm friends - not hard to imagine either, why plans for a second book might be in their minds.

Written by

Felicity Spector

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