Judy Joo is missing Playboy.
The Morgan Stanley trader-turned-chef has quit the London club to open a restaurant and recalls the fun she had over three years, cooking for celebrities from Justin Bieber to Kate Moss.
“Talk about a massive fun factor with the brand, and the stories I walked away from there,” Joo says. “It was incredible, hanging out in the Playboy Mansion in L.A. and looking after tons of rappers and footballers.
‘‘And I miss the bunnies. I love those girls. Who doesn’t love being surrounded by beautiful people? Come on!’’
To say that she has had a varied career is an understatement. Joo, 39, a Columbia engineering graduate, interned at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. She spent more than four years with Morgan Stanley in New York and San Francisco before studying at the French Culinary Institute in New York.
She then moved to London and got a job as a pastry chef at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. Television beckoned and she appeared on ‘‘Iron Chef’’ before being named executive chef when the Playboy Club returned to London in 2011. The Korean-American is now set to open a restaurant in London’s Soho in December.
It will be called Jinjuu, which means ‘‘pearl’’ in Korean and will occupy a site on Kingly Street. She’s bringing her head chef from the Playboy Club, Andrew Hales, as well as pastry chef Jaime Garbutt.
Sexy Korean Food
She has no plans to dress waitresses as Oryctolagus cuniculus, the burrowing rodent of the hare family more commonly known as the rabbit.
Joo has two main backers: Kia Joorabchian, a sports entrepreneur who advises footballers such as Carlos Tevez; and Ali Jassim, whom Joo describes as adviser to Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates.
Joo says she wants to make Korean food sexy and to create an international brand, as Hakkasan has for Chinese cuisine and Zuma is doing for Japanese. Hakkasan Ltd., which opened in London in 2001, now has 12 outlets around the world and bills itself as a global lifestyle brand. Zuma is about to open its eighth restaurant, on Madison Avenue, in New York.
‘‘The concept is modern, sexy, fashionable Korean food in a way that no one’s doing,” Joo says.
Isn’t Korean cuisine a little heavy on the garlic and chili to be the food of love?
“Big flavors can be sexy,” she says. “I think of Italian as being very garlicky. I know that Korean food does have that reputation because a lot of the dishes are just red and full of chili but I love punchy flavors and I love garlic.”
She wants to keep down prices and expects guests to spend about 15 pounds ($24.50) for lunch and less than 40 pounds in the evening, when there will be a DJ. That will be a relief to anyone used to paying Zuma prices. Jinjuu will be designed by Tibbatts.Abel, the studio behind Buddha Bar and Chinawhite.
Joo is hoping to roll out the brand internationally and talks of Miami, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Dubai, though she is wary of New York. That city has been a graveyard for successful chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Joel Robuchon and Alain Ducasse.
It’s all a world away from Joo’s roots. Her father was born in North Korea and fled south as a refugee with his parents and eight siblings before eventually making it to the U.S. He has just retired as a psychiatrist in Somerset, New Jersey. Joo’s mother is from Incheon, a city outside Seoul.
It’s also different from her previous life as a fixed-income derivative saleswoman.
“I’m not making as much money as I would have if I’d stayed in banking for 10 years down the line but I’m following my passion and I love it,” she says. “It’s fun and it’s creative and it drives me. I always love going to work.”
Even without the bunnies.
Jinjuu will be at 16 Kingly Street, London, W1B 5PS.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines)