In 2010, UK supermarket Waitrose unveiled its new ‘food ambassadors’: Delia Smith and Heston Blumenthal. The launch image, captioned ‘Britain’s best-loved cook’ and ‘Britain’s top chef’, featured Blumenthal in chef’s whites, arms crossed, while Smith smiled over his shoulder in a pretty white shirt. Of course, Blumenthal is by any measure a chef; Smith – having only briefly once worked in a restaurant – is not; yet the ad irked me. Why was Smith standing behind Blumenthal? Why was her success defined by how beloved she was, while his was purely about talent? Why did it reinforce the impression that cook and chef are inherently gendered words?
When I began working on a book of stories and recipes from 31 women who are redefining the British food scene, that advert sprang to mind. So what is the difference between a cook and chef? The interviews I conducted for my book revealed that chef and cook is something of a false dichotomy: like women and men, or nature and nurture, chef and cook are on a spectrum, and most people who cook for a living sit somewhere between the two.
We might associate Blumenthal the chef with ‘genius’ and Smith the cook with ‘love’ – but as avowed chef Angela Hartnett (Murano, Mayfair) pointed out to me: ‘A good chef brings all of what they know to the kitchen: knowledge, experiences, history – and passion. The moment a chef cooks without feeling, they’re out of a job.’ Conversations with Hartnett, Nieves Barragan, Andi Oliver, Judy Joo and their contemporaries left me feeling that it is the increasing fluidity of these identities that has enabled women in hospitality to carve out their own space in the kitchen. The women and men who feed us have the right to call themselves cook, chef, both or neither, as they wish.
In these inspiring women and their contemporaries, I believe the future to be in very capable hands.
Judy Joo’s Ultimate Korean Fried Chicken recipe
‘I love fried chicken, and even though I grew up in America, for me, “KFC” stands for Korean, not Kentucky, fried chicken!’ says Judy Joo. ‘In Korea, there are many different versions, but what they all have in common is a very thin, crisp coating. It is such a crowd-pleaser.’
Preparation time 1 hour 10 minutes
Cooking time 35 minutes
For the chicken
- 2 chicken drumsticks, 2 thighs and 4 wings (with tips)
- 30g cornflour
- 2.5 tsp sea salt
- 0.5 tsp baking powder
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- vegetable oil, for frying
For the barbecue sauce
- 3 tbsp gochujang (Korean chilli paste)
- 3 tbsp ketchup
- 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
- 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 2 tsp peeled and grated fresh ginger
- 2 garlic cloves, grated or finely chopped
For the batter
- 65g cornflour
- 20g fine matzo meal
- 30g plain flour
- 2 tbsp gochugaru (Korean chilli flakes)
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 2.5 tsp garlic powder
- 2.5 tsp onion powder
- 0.25 tsp baking powder
- 90ml vodka (or any neutral-tasting spirit at 40% alcohol)
- 2 tbsp gochujang
- Stir together the cornflour, salt, baking powder and a generous amount of pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Transfer the chicken to a wire rack, shaking each piece to remove any excess coating. Leave, uncovered, at room temperature for about 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, make the barbecue sauce. In a small saucepan, combine all the sauce ingredients and simmer for 3-5 minutes until slightly thickened. The sauce can be either served with the chicken or drizzled over it. If you prefer the latter, remove it from the heat earlier so it’s a little thinner. Set aside until needed.
- Shortly before cooking, fill a large, wide, heavy-based pot (at least 13cm deep) with 5cm vegetable oil and warm over a medium-high heat until it reaches 180°C/350°F.
- While the oil is heating, prepare the batter. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornflour, matzo meal, flour, chilli flakes, salt, garlic powder, onion powder and baking powder. In a small bowl, whisk together the vodka, gochujang and 240ml water.
- When you’re ready to fry the chicken, whisk the vodka into the cornflour mixture. (Don’t do this in advance or the resulting batter may thicken too much as it sits – the consistency should be relatively thin.)
- Working in two batches, with the drumsticks and thighs together as one batch and the wings as the other, dip each piece of chicken into the batter, letting any excess drip off. Suspend the chicken in the hot oil for a couple of seconds to set the crust before letting it slip completely into the oil, otherwise it will stick to the base of the pot. Fry the chicken for 15-20 minutes, flipping halfway through, until golden and cooked through. Transfer to a wire rack or kitchen paper-lined plate to drain. Let the oil return to 180°C before cooking the second batch.
- Serve the chicken with the barbecue sauce on the side.
The wines to drink with Korean Fried Chicken
New World Pink Fizz
Sparkling wine is always good with deep-fried food and, with the hot spicy sauce, we suggest a rosé. Champagne or English sparkling wine could taste a little lean with this dish, so perhaps go for a New World sparkling wine with a bit more fruit, or a Cava rosado.
Graham Beck, Brut Rosé, Western Cape, South Africa NV
Pieter Ferreira is so identified with sparkling wine he’s known in South Africa as ‘Bubbles Ferreira’ and is a master of the country’s Méthode Cap Classique, as exemplified by this enticingly fruity sparkling rosé. Packed with summer berry fruits but with an elegant mousse, it’s an attractive aperitif and party wine but also a versatile partner for food.
Drink 2022-2023 | Alcohol 12%
Washington State Riesling
With just the right flavour profile for this punchy dish, Washington State Riesling is drier than most German Rieslings, with a floral rather than limey character that chimes particularly well with Korean food. (The KFC probably won’t be the only dish on the table either, so its versatility will come in really useful.)
Charles Smith Wines, Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Washington State, USA 2020
If anything was going to give Riesling a much-needed image boost it was rock’n’roll winemaker Charles Smith’s Kung Fu Girl. It’s distinctively dry, fresh, floral and aromatic with a cleansing bite that makes it a great partner for spicy food. Charles devised it to go with Chinese food but it also works well with Indian, Japanese and Korean dishes.
Drink 2022-2025 | Alc 12%
The Female Chef by Clare Finney and Liz Seabrook, is published by Hoxton Mini Press, £28
Clare Finney writes about food, cooks, chefs and producers for a variety of national and regional magazines and newspapers, and in 2019 was pronounced Food Writer of the Year in the Fortnum & Mason Food and Drink Awards. This is her first book.
Judy Joo is a Korean-American TV chef, restaurateur and food writer. Seoul Bird, her Korean street food restaurant, has sites in Westfield London and Canary Wharf .