Go Away With … Judy Joo

Judy Joo JJ Headshot 2_ Photo credit Russ Burton x 640

By Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Content Agency
May 3, 2016

Born in New Jersey, chef Judy Joo splits her time between her London and New York homes — and has currently been spending time working in Hong Kong. The author of a new cookbook called “Korean Food Made Simple” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30); Joo is also the host of the Cooking Channel’s show of the same name.

“I admit I really only travel to places that have strong culinary cultures,” says Joo, 41. “I particularly love going to the Caribbean and indulging in great seafood, rum and sun!”

Fans may follow Joo on Twitter or Facebook.

Q. What else draws you to the Caribbean?

A. I love the water, warm weather and great food and drinks! The white beaches are gorgeous and the perfect place to escape to. I had a wonderful vacation visiting St. Kitts and Nevis recently. I also love the British Virgin Islands and sailing in the warm waters. The Caribbean islands are culturally very diverse, rich in history and offer so much to explore.

Q. To someone who was going to the Caribbean for the first time, what would you recommend that they do during their visit?
A. In Saint Kitts, make your way to Kittitian Hill on to Belle Mont Farm and hang your hat in a villa on the mountain overlooking the sea. It is true bliss.  At night, monkeys come to visit you and during the day you can pick your own produce in the farm. You’ll eat the sweetest mangoes that are delivered to your room daily and become privy to the divine creations of Chef Christophe Letard. I fell in love with his dasheen risotto. Hop over to Nevis and go to Sunshine’s on the beach and kick back with his famous Killer Bee rum punch—the best on the island. Over in the BVI—after sailing around Virgin Gorda–hitch up to Saba Rock for fish tacos and wash it down with Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (only sold in certain parts of the world).  Sometimes they have Guinness Punch too—it’s mixed with milk and a bit sweet. I love the conch pepper pot stew at the Bitter End Yacht Club, too. And, don’t forget to visit The Baths and make it over to Jost Van Dyke to imbibe on their infamous Painkillers. The sailing around these islands is first rate, for all levels and the scuba/snorkeling is bliss as well. The waters and reefs are teaming full of gorgeous colorful creatures.

Q. Where have you traveled to that most reminded you of home?

A. I still consider home to be the place where you feel like you belong. It is not necessarily the place where you live. That said, my home will always be New York City. Some cities come close, like Hong Kong or London. But, New York is so unique. The energy and vibe is unparalleled to others.

Q. What untapped destination should people know about?

A. Seoul, South Korea, is still relatively unknown as a tourist destination for Westerners. Everyone in Asia goes all the time, but the secret is not out yet in the West. It is such an interesting place to visit culturally and full of surprises. The shopping, food and attractions are all so unique. It is the untapped treasure of Asia. The nightlife in particular is vivid. It is a 24-hour city. And there is something for everyone. You can retreat and do a meditative temple stay with the monks, or pamper yourself in one of the many spas specializing in the highest tech of beauty treatments, get lost in the grandeur of the temples, or enjoy modern Seoul’s amazing shopping and street food. Jordan is another untapped destination that is incredible. From the red sand of the Wadi Rum desert to walking on the water of the Dead Sea. So good for your skin! I could spend all day in the water. Petra is breathtaking, and the city life of Amman is dynamic and vibrant. Best of all, the food is fresh and bursting full of flavor.

Q. What was the first trip you took as a child? And did you love it … or not so much?

A. I remember going to Disney World! I thought everything was real and still remember the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride. I remember thinking that we were deep under the water and that all of the fish and sunken treasures were real. I loved every second. I did fall under the spell of the magic of Disney!

Q. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your travels?

A. Traveling puts life into perspective. You have to appreciate what you have and all of the opportunities and freedoms that are available to you. I’ve learned a lot about myself and the world from traveling. Most of the problems we have are first-world problems and not worth stressing over. Life is like a book, and if you don’t travel you are only reading one page. My grandfather used to say that the seven continents and five oceans of the world were our home, and I do feel like a citizen of the world.

Q. Have you traveled to a place that stood out so much that you felt compelled to incorporate it into your work?

A. I really loved the fusion of cuisines in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Japanese culture is strong there and the resultant mix of Japanese-Brazilian cuisine is so interesting and incredibly tasty. The punchy South American spices meld well with Japanese food. I do similar things with my Korean-American and Korean-Mexican dishes that I have on my menu.

Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?

A. From London, I’ll hop on the train and go to Paris or Brussels. It is just so easy not having to go to the airport. Otherwise, I’ll go to the countryside for a spa retreat at Stoke Park and a game of tennis. When I’m in New York, I’ll go to Jersey to see my family and play with my nephews — absolute bliss!

Q. What are your five favorite cities?

A. New York, London, San Francisco, Seoul, Tokyo.

Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?

A. Pitcairn Island, New Zealand, Tasmania, North Korea, Cuba, the Amazon, Patagonia.

Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?

A. SPF 50-plus sunscreen, a good sun hat, lightweight sneakers, smartphone, warm socks and sweater, good lip balm, face moisturizer, Korean body scrub cloth and my light Herve Chapelier mega tote bag to throw everything into.

Q. What is your guilty pleasure when you’re on the road?

A. Pringles potato chips out of the mini bar.

Q. What are your favorite hotels?
A.  The Four Seasons everywhere.  Twin Farms (in Barnard,  Vermont) for impeccable service and every whim catered for.  The Seoul Conrad Hotel for its delicious buffet breakfast.  The Oberoi Udaivilas in India, for its over the top everything (literally rose petals being thrown at your feet and a 24-hour butler button). The Atelier Sul Mare in Sicily for its unique art rooms and seafood shacks on the shore. The Metropolitan Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand—so I can eat at Nahm every night and have the best pad thai for room service.

Q. What would be your dream trip?
A. Traveling the entire length of the Spice Route at leisure and eating everything along the way.

Q. What are your favorite restaurants?
A.  Seaside fish shacks, mom and pop trattorias in Italy and street food.

Q. Where is the most romantic destination?
A.  Singita Boulder Lodge in South Africa.  There is something so incredibly romantic about Africa and seeing animals in the wild. It is raw and beautiful.

Q. If you’ve ever gone away for the holidays, which was the best trip?
A. Christmas in Rome is magical, and you can’t top Christmas mass in the Vatican itself. You can just walk in, after standing in a modest line. The opulence is divine. The singing is ethereal and even though the mass is in Latin, you can’t just help but be moved by it, and I’m not even that religious. I had tears in my eyes.  Rome is a transporting city in itself.  The history, scenery, wine and food—it’s the best Christmas ever, complete with delicious panattone for breakfast.

Q. What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?
A. Where to eat and drink like a local.

Q. What is your best and/or worst vacation memory?
A.  BEST: Diving for and eating fresh sea urchin right out of the shell on the deck of small gulet off the coast of Bodrum, Turkey.  The sun was on my face, fresh seafood in my belly and overlooking the Greek and Turkish islands.  The Algida ice cream boat showed up shortly afterwards too which was so awesome.  It’s like an ice cream truck, but a small boat that you wave to, and he pulls up next to you to sell ice cream bars.  So fun! WORST: Getting awful food poisoning after eating the best of Irish oysters in Dublin.  Knocked me out for days.

© 2016 JAE-HA KIM

Comments (4)

  1. My husband and I were in Seoul for five days in 2012 and I was shocked to see so few Westerners. As in, hardly any at all. What an amazing city!

  2. Judy Joo says:

  3. Judy Joo says:

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