Chicken and potato stew with honey, garlic, and chiles; battered cod and zucchini with soy and vinegar dipping sauce; pine nut and rice porridge; shaved ice with sweet red beans and vanilla ice cream.
These are the kinds of colorful, generous flavors Jordan Bourke and Rejina Pyo are bringing to London.
Their cookbook Our Korean Kitchen is the first of its kind in Europe and particularly in the U.K., where we have very few quality Korean restaurants and the typical home cook is more likely to reach for a Chinese, Japanese, Thai, or Vietnamese recipe than a Korean one.
There are few stones left unturned in the culinary world here, but Jordan and Jina have found one. And it's their favorite food in the world.
In the couple’s North London kitchen, there are small echoes of Korea everywhere: plates and bowls they picked up on their travels, Korean products stacked on the shelves, and Korean labels that Jina has stuck to every apparatus to help Jordan brush up on his reading skills.
Jordan Bourke grew up in Ireland. After training at Ballymaloe Cookery School, he went straight into the kitchens of Petersham Nurseries, Skye Gyngell’s Michelin-starred seasonal restaurant. Since then, he has published two cookbooks, The Guilt Free Gourmet and The Natural Food Kitchen, which was shortlisted for a Guild of Food Writers Award. His work has appeared in national and international publications like Vogue, the Times, Elle, and BBC Good Food, and he has appeared on culinary shows for the BBC, Channel 4, and Fox International.
But it is his work recent exploration of Korean cuisine that has made him one of the most recognizable names on the British food scene lately.
Jordan’s love affair with Korean food began with another love affair. He first met Rejina Pyo, a Seoul-born fashion designer, in a “really bad” bar in central London. Shortly after they met, Jordan moved to New York City and the two didn’t see each other again until Jordan’s return a year later. In 2011, they wed in Ireland. Then again in Seoul in 2012.
It was through Jina that Jordan discovered true Korean food. “I could cook him whatever I wanted at the beginning, and he would find it amazing! So it was easy for me!” jokes Jina.
"I remember her cooking me this traditional sweet potato noodle dish on one of our first dates, and I just fell in love with it,” Jordan says. “I didn’t know a lot about Korean food. It was such a learning curve.”
He began accompanying Jina on her trips back to Seoul, joining her mother in the kitchen as she cooked traditional family recipes. He wanted to learn every inch of this cuisine, which had been a mystery to him for so long. “It was hard for Jordan to learn from my mum in some ways. She doesn’t speak English, but they bonded over cooking,” Jina says. “Korean people grow up around home cooking, so it’s a natural thing to them. Jordan was trying to learn from my mum and she had no idea what measurements she used. She’s never used a measuring spoon or a weighing scale to cook with.”
After learning the ways of the Korean home kitchen, Jordan worked in a few restaurants to learn the nuances of traditional recipes from locals. Then, upon returning to England and despairing at the lack of authentic Korean food, Jordan and Jina began hosting pop-ups, supper clubs, and cooking demos.
“The food in Korea is so incredibly good,” Jordan says, “but we’d come back here [to London] and try to find some, and it was just always so poor. That’s part of the reason we wanted to start this, to show people the proper flavors of home cooked Korean food.” They started drawing up the first drafts of Our Korean Kitchen when they saw the positive response.
The book blends Jina’s culinary heritage and Jordan’s classical training. "We knew we had to do something traditional, and reflect the real food of Korea," Jordan explains. "Practically every recipe in that book is a traditional Korean recipe. They have hundreds and hundreds of recipes that are totally unique" to the region.
Jordan and Jina’s project has come at a time of growing interest in Korean culture in the U.K. Along with the rise of K-Pop (Korean pop music) and K-Drama (Korean television shows), Korea’s complex, vibrant cuisine is being recognized now more than ever before.
“Every friend I take to Korea is amazed that they’ve never tried the food before,” Jina says. “They all want to make it at home but have no idea how. The dishes are simple, but when the ingredients are unfamiliar, it can take a little push to get people to try to make it themselves. That’s why we wanted to do the book.”
For lunch at Jordan and Jina's, we were served bibimbap with a tableful of toppings. Juicy marinated beef, cucumber, daikon radish, shiitake mushrooms, and a sunny yellow egg sat upon a bouncy bed of white rice. And with this, Jordan and Jina offered us baby anchovies, tiny pieces of dried squid, mushrooms marinated with soy sauce, sesame oil, pickled garlic, and the most potent, warming, kimchi we’d ever tried.
“Koreans would make all of these extra bits, and they last for months,” Jordan explains as we dip into each little bowl. “They’ll make a quick rice or soup and they get out all of these fermented or preserved foods and suddenly it looks like a feast! The tables there just groan with food. It’s very resourceful cooking.”
“When it comes to food, Koreans really take care of others,” Jina says, mingling the ingredients together before filling our bowls. “When you’re eating in a group at the table, everyone looks after each other.”
Bibimbap (Mixed Rice With Vegetables & Beef)
- For the gochujang sauce
- 3 tablespoons gochujang chilli paste
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon roasted sesame seed oil
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tablespoon sugar or maple syrup
- For the marinated beef
- 2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons roasted sesame seed oil
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 3 spring onions, very finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 300 grams beef sirloin, very thinly sliced
- 400 grams short-grain white rice
- For the toppings
- 150 grams carrots, cut into very thin strips
- 300 grams zucchini, quartered lengthways and thinly sliced
- 150 grams cucumber, halved lengthways, deseeded and thinly sliced
- 150 grams daikon radish, peeled and cut into thin strips
- 150 grams bean sprouts
- roasted sesame seed oil, to season
- soy sauce, to season
- 200 grams shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 300 grams spinach
- 4 eggs
- sunflower or vegetable oil, to fry
- toasted sesame seeds, to serve
- few leaves garden cress, to serve
Beef & Vegetables with Sesame Glass Noodles (Japchae)
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce, plus extra to season
- 1 tablespoon roasted sesame seed oil, plus extra to season
- 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
- 1 pinch (large) black pepper
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 150 grams beef, very thinly sliced
- Sunflower oil, for frying
- 1 egg, beaten and seasoned with a pinch of sea salt
- 200 grams spinach
- 10 shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 240 grams carrots, julienned
- 1/2 onion, sliced thinly
- 240 grams sweet potato glass noodles or glass noodles
- 1 teaspoon black or toasted white sesame seeds
- 1 red chile, thinly sliced, to garnish (optional)