Chef Profile: Joo Won
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2022 print issue of Quench Magazine.
Chef Joo Won loves everything that food and drink bring to his life. A cheerful, warm-hearted, yet sharp and passionate personality, for Joo, being a chef is not just a job, it’s a way of life. It’s therefore essential that it also be fun.
Korean born and raised, Joo has been working as a professional chef for over 15 years in London, U.K. Starting at the Orrery with Head Chef Andre Garrett, Joo then moved to Galvin at Windows to work with the Galvin brothers as an opening team member in 2006, working his way up to head chef in 2013. He led the Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows until 2020.
Joo is now planning to open his own restaurant, Cálong. While the restaurant is dealing with venue issues, he’s planning out a menu of Korean-western twisted dishes to be served in a casual setting. Combining his skillful western trained techniques with native Korean flavours, Joo has been creating many dishes including his signature Kimchi Risotto.
Indeed, Joo has never hesitated to introduce Korean foods and food culture to a wider audience. Presenting Korean flavours to Le Cordon Bleu London’s students and designing and serving Korean influenced canapes and three course menus for the Winter Olympic Team’s Great Britain Charity Dinner at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum are just a few examples of this. Most recently, Joo was appointed as head chef for the London East Asian Film Festival 2021, creating a special ‘Taste of Asia’ menu for movie goers.
Joo doesn’t hesitate when asked what his favourite Korean flavour or ingredients are … it’s ‘perilla leaf’ (깻잎 kkaennip). “Such a versatile ingredient full of flavours, complex aromas and texture,” he says. “You can eat as a ssam (a Korean dish that involves wrapping leafy vegetables around meat), in a soup, or preserved as pickles. There are so many different ways to use it.”
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP:
Born and raised in Busan, South Korea. I hardly left my city until I decided to go to London.
FAVOURITE COMFORT FOOD:
A Korean knife cut noodle soup called Kal guk su. This is a simple, lovely broth and chewy elastic noodle that everyone loves in Korea. There are different flavours but my favourite is Jang kalguksu, a really hearty, spicy, thick broth with a Korean fermented sauce base called Jang made of Gochujang (chilli sauce), Doenjang (soybean paste) and Ganjang (soy sauce). This is a must have food when you are travelling around Korea.
FAVOURITE INGREDIENT TO COOK WITH:
Definitely pork. My favourite part is pork belly cooked simply over charcoal with sesame oil and salt, wrapped in lettuce with ssamjang. But I equally love every single part of this beautiful animal from nose to tail. It’s so versatile: slow cooked head terrine, soy braised trotter, leg ham, lovely cheek stew, roasted cutlet, and rich Korean offal soup. There is so much fun & flavours about this ingredient.
BEST CHILDHOOD FOOD MEMORY:
I have many memories of sitting with my family, chatting and eating around a large table. But when I was a little kid I used to cry all the time just because I didn’t want to eat anything and for no reason. I do remember one day my grandmother cooked spicy chicken stew, and it was my very first and earliest memory of food that I thought OMG that is so good! I still remember that light, but tasty chicken flavoured with roasted chilli oil aroma from the broth.
YOUR GO-TO RESTAURANT THAT NEVER DISAPPOINTS:
St. John in London. I just fell in love with the flavours they create with simple (but good) ingredients. No fuss, just honest cooking with good knowledge and experience. Especially their meat dishes like terrines, offal, roast, seasonal games and more.
WHO IS YOUR MOST SIGNIFICANT CULINARY INFLUENCE:
Alain Ducasse and Michel Bras. These two legendary chefs’ style of cooking influenced me a lot at the early stage of my career. Attention to detail, daily discipline, chasing excellence, knowledge of ingredients and their use, etc. Their books were always at my bedside, and I think they’re still brilliant.
MUSIC YOU LISTEN TO WHILE YOU COOK:
At home – anything my wife plays. At work – anything that brings good energy like rap, techno, rock, and indie.
WHY AND WHEN DID YOU START COOKING:
I took industrial engineering, but after the first 3 months I realised there is nothing fun at all about it. I still finished it because I didn’t have anything else planned. After college I went to a local pastry & bakery institution to learn some skills to earn money (recommended by my mother!), and that was it, I found the spark to initiate an actual direction in my life. I wanted to go to Paris, the mecca of gastronomy at that time, but couldn’t speak any French. So I landed in London, just planning a short couple of years and then eventually moving to Paris. But then I saw that London was stepping up its game in the world culinary scene, especially at my first job, the Michelin starred restaurant. It was brutal but it made me really focus on absorbing everything about cooking. I did nothing else but cook for most of my 20’s, and I have no regrets.
VISION FOR THE FUTURE:
I am over 40 and I would like to start my own establishment. I’d like to move away from fine dining and do more relaxed cooking with an easy to approach, affordable food and wine menu. Most importantly, I want to offer Korean & British cooking that you cannot find at any other place in the UK. I have plans for other projects, but I need to start and settle our first restaurant project, Cálong, and I don’t want to think about other things until I get this done.