Chef Julie Yoon‘s website is my newest favorite haunt. A graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York City, she has achieved the dream that I hope also to enjoy one day: that of leaving behind the tedium of a stressful day job to pursue a driving passion as full-time profession. Her recipes bring the spice and flavor. Her food photos convey respect and affection for the foods we eat and the dishes born of using them to their fullest potential. Her feelings toward the garlic press and the importance of getting children interested in food and cooking early in life run closely parallel with mine (and her having received her chef training in my hometown doesn’t hurt our odds of being friends, either.) Come hear her tell what it’s like to cook on YouTube, to work as a Whole Foods Demo Chef, and more. You also stand a good chance of picking up a great recipe that you had no idea your life was missing until now.
Flavorful World: What aspect of the culinarian life was your greatest impetus for wanting to cook professionally?
Julie Yoon: I was working as a fashion designer in New York City with grueling hours and lots of stress. I would come home grumpy everyday and either cook or watch the Food Network to unwind. One day it dawned on me that if I had to work hard, and have grueling hours, it might as well involve something I’m truly passionate about, and that was food!
I quit my fashion job, got another job at a cupcake shop, and applied to the French Culinary Institute in New York City. I worked during the day, and went to school at night. I was sleep-deprived but happy. After graduation, I left the bakery to do food styling, which enabled me to work for a couple TV cooking shows.
I loved watching how the celebrity chefs of the shows would encourage so many people to cook confidently, in a down-to-earth, non intimidating way. It made me realize that I wanted to teach others to cook too. Now I’m able to do that through my blog at: http://chefjulieyoon.com, where I feature simple resourceful cooking, with a hint of gourmet.
FW: What has been the most unexpected result of your YouTube cooking series?
JY: How well it was received. I actually started out teaching as a Demonstration Chef for Whole Foods. Then my husband Joe and I moved to California, where we launched a private cooking class business.
Eventually I transitioned into teaching cooking through the blog and online videos. My husband and I film them together from our own kitchen. At first, I was nervous about being on YouTube. I braced myself for the haters and mean comments, but so far, people have been really nice and encouraging!
We also had a couple partnerships and free products sent our way as a result of our videos. It has given me confidence to keep teaching. You can watch our videos at: http://www.youtube.com/chefjulieyoonvideos
FW: What was the last dish you enjoyed out at a restaurant that inspired you to create a recipe that you’ve since prepared for others? What dish did you create?
JY: I was with my girlfriends at Mario Batali’s restaurant, Pizzeria Mozza, and we ordered “Nancy’s Chopped Salad.” It’s this simple yet amazing antipasto salad made with chopped iceberg lettuce and tons of sliced salami. It stayed in my mind, so I went home and tried to imitate it, with my own twist. I made it for a couple friends and they loved it. It’s now one of my recipes on the blog called “Savory Salami Chopped Salad.” Here’s the link: http://chefjulieyoon.com/2011/11/savory-salami-chopped-salad
FW: What is the most memorable thing that has ever happened or has ever been said to you following a Whole Foods demonstration, and why? What dish were you demonstrating at the time?
JY: It was when I got the job at Whole Foods! During the interview process, you have to cook something for a conference table full of interviewers, using one Whole Foods product, while you’re fielding all of their questions. It’s a way to see if you’ve got the chops to cook and talk at the same time.
I chose to use their 365 brand balsamic vinegar and made sage stuffed shrimp, wrapped in bacon, and drizzled with a balsamic glaze. After I got the job, one interviewer told me she went home that night and bought all the ingredients to make my dish for herself!
I shared the recipe for my glaze on the blog, which I now call a “Miracle Balsamic Glaze,” because it’s good on almost anything AND landed me a job! Here’s the link: http://chefjulieyoon.com/2009/04/the-miracle-balsamic-glaze
FW: Tell us about your latest cooking- or food-related project and how it came about.
JY: My husband and I have recently launched a kid’s food-themed product line based off of smiling fruit and vegetable characters I doodled in a sketchbook a few years ago. My friends encouraged me to do something with them, but I always put the idea of making products on the back burner.
We finally decided to take the plunge and start out with screen printed food character baby onesies, and illustrated recipes for kids after my nephew was born. It’s like we’re fusing my love of food, with my fashion design background, and Joe’s graphic design skills in one project. That’s how our line, Small Bites came to be. It’s meant to help kids and their families develop healthy relationships with food and cooking, in a fun way. You can see our collection at http://ilovesmallbites.com
FW: What is your favorite annual food-related event? What makes it your favorite?
JY: This is not so much an event as it is a show. I love watching “The Next Food Network Star” every year and look forward to it. The reason I like this reality cooking competition show more than others is that you can’t win just by cooking well. You have to be the full package. Contestants have to be able to teach, have a great personality, and a strong point of view. It challenges me to improve.
FW: Tell us about one piece of kitchen gear that is indispensable to you when you’re cooking. Tell us about one piece of kitchen gear whose necessity you feel is overrated.
JY: Indispensable: A silicone rubber spatula. I use a rubber spatula everyday. I usually cook with a non stick pan, and a heat-resistant rubber spatula doesn’t melt or scratch up my pan. And I use it to scrape up every bit of banana bread batter when baking, or the last drop of sauce from a bowl.
Overrated: A garlic press. It just takes up space in the drawer and it’s annoying to clean. I’d rather just chop up garlic with my knife, or use a hand grater/microplane. I’m not a fan of one-function kitchen equipment in general.
FW: Excluding the name of any of your pre-existing blogs, websites, or print/online personas, tell us what name you would give to your memoir about your culinary exploits.
JY: Hmmm… never thought about that before, but maybe I’d call it, “Hungry For More.” I call myself a “forever-student,” because I never want to stop learning and growing. I like traveling, experiencing new things, taking risks, and helping others. Sometimes I don’t always have a plan, but I know that everything in my life is about the journey and learning as I go. The same goes for cooking. When I’m developing a new recipe, I learn much more from the mistakes and failures than the successful dishes.
FW: When you aren’t cooking and/or eating delicious foods, how do you most enjoy spending your time?
JY: It’s weird, but lately, I’ve gotten really into decorating our apartment by crafting and coming up with budget-friendly DIY projects. I think it’s just another outlet to be resourceful and creative. Having a creative environment in turn inspires me to come up with new interesting recipes! And I’m a social person, so I enjoy spending time with my husband or girlfriends, doing simple things like taking a walk outside, or chatting over coffee.
*Note to Readers: If you’ll permit me a small pun, then suffice it to say that Chef Yoon has her fingers in many pies, and food adventurers everywhere are luckier for it. Not only is her website at ChefJulieYoon.com loaded with engaging personal insights and treats for eyes and stomach alike, but you can also ‘Like’ her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter, and Pinterest to stay current on culinary interests from recipes to kitchen gear. You also can (and should) watch her work in over two dozen videos on her YouTube Channel cooking and eating things too wonderful for words alone to adequately capture. Her recently-launched website ILoveSmallBites.com, created with the goal of fostering a healthy interest in cooking and food in babies and small children (an altruistic intention if ever there was one,) makes fun food-themed gift items you’ll want to check out too. Because honestly, who doesn’t love small bites?