For Jiwon Do, cooking is in his genes; the executive chef at QT Wellington’s Hippopotamus and Hot Sauce comes from five generations of hospitality professionals. Jiwon returns frequently to his native South Korea to reconnect with traditional cuisine, making sure to stop off in Japan to stay updated on culinary trends. Back in Aotearoa, his focus is on local produce, and infusing Kiwi classics with Asian flavours. So we asked him all our burning questions about his go-to meal, his inspirations and advice for young chefs.
dish: What is your favourite recipe you cook for yourself?
Jiwon: It may sound simple, but you really can’t beat the combination of truffle and balsamic. My go-to is a warm slice of bread with sticky balsamic reduction and truffle oil – perfection!
The 5 things you always have in your fridge/pantry?
Truffle oil, balsamic, eggs, jalapenos and cabbage.
If you could share one piece of cooking knowledge, what would it be?
To borrow from science. I’d love to share the technique of osmotic pressure. An unsung hero, this uses the theory of osmosis in brining or pickling, which I use for our jalapeno jam and fermenting kimchi at Hot Sauce.
What or who inspired you to pursue a career in food?
When I was 13 in domestic science class, I was scouted as talent... in fashion. My teacher saw my potential for handcrafting, and suggested I participate in a fashion design competition. Admittedly, I had (and maybe still have) a knack for sewing, so despite my lack of interest in clothing, I proceeded with the event. In a training session, I saw another student practising for the Culinary Arts category and any remaining shred of interest in fashion was cast off. This kid blew my mind! I had never seen anything cooler, and I was bursting with excitement at the thought of learning to cook. That was just the beginning…
What’s your favourite part of your working day and why?
I thrive under pressure. I love collaborating with our teams at QT, creating new experiences for guests. While Hot Sauce is in full swing with an awesome new menu, we’ve been opening Hippopotamus for special pop-up events only, including a Man Tea collaboration with Parrotdog Brewery, and a Wine Pairing Masterclass to celebrate our recent Wine Spectator Award win. Usually, our head sommelier Florent Souche matches wine to my food, but when beverages take centre stage, it’s a whole new challenge for me to do the reverse! These opportunities to get creative keep me motivated.
How do you see the food scene changing in New Zealand?
Eating local is becoming more and more important, which is is changing our definition and perception of ‘fine food’. This used to mean fine dining, but the term is morphing to mean sustainable, local and high quality. I’m passionate about delivering the story of our local farmers, producers and crafters of foods, so every dish comes with a narrative or anecdote.
Your new spring menu weaves in Korean elements – can you say what some of these are?
Most recently I’ve been working in French-inspired cuisine at Hippopotamus, so Hot Sauce – where the menu is Asian-inspired - has been an exciting new challenge for me. Although I hadn’t worked in an Asian kitchen since the start of my career, I had always wanted to draw on what I know by nature, having spent most of my childhood in Korea.
On Hot Sauce’s new spring menu you’ll find ‘Bulgogi’ (Korean stir-fried beef) and ‘Jeyuk’ (spicy Korean pork). These dishes are classic, but also easy to integrate into New Zealanders’ preferences when it comes to Asian-inspired cuisine. I add a touch of sweetness to reduce the level of heat, and although Jeyuk is traditionally eaten in a lettuce parcel, I’ve created a bao with baby spinach and daikon to emulate the traditional ‘Ssam’ flavour.
Who is your food hero?
My grandmother, hands down. She is the best cook I know of. Not only is she creative, but she starts everything from scratch, visiting the market every morning to source local, organic ingredients. She was cooking sustainably well before it was trendy!
What’s an easy Korean dish that curious foodies could have a go at?
One of my favourites is a Chojan, a sweet, tangy and spicy chilli Korean dipping sauce that goes really well with seafood and white meat. I’m currently experimenting with a version of this sauce for our upcoming summer menu, if you want to taste it first. I’ll give you a hint – it involves oysters!
What’s your favourite foodie TV series?
I love Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential book and TV series.
What do you love most about your job?
Teaching and mentoring my junior chefs. It’s so exciting to see them learn and progress.
Your guilty pleasure?
Late-night two-minute noodles after work… And I’m not above those fast food cravings. Who doesn’t love a bucket of KFC?
Where have you experienced the best food (and what was it)?
Definitely Korea. Everyone needs to try ‘Han Jung Sik’. The translation of this is ‘Han’ – Korea, ‘Jung’ – Proper, ‘Sik’ – Meal, which is the traditional way of Korean dining. It’s a full-course meal, with the table covered in plates with all kinds of mains and countless sides, which is the best way to experience a variety of Korean dishes.
The cookbook you go back to time and time again?
My two go-tos are The Professional Chef, by the Culinary Institute of America and A Day at elBulli by Ferran Adrià, the chef behind the legendary Spanish restaurant consistently voted the best in the world.
The kitchen utensil you can't live without?
Any advice to new cooks?
Longevity is the new integrity. Smart is the new sexy. Instead of rushing to move up the ranks, be patient and humble, and learn absolutely everything you can. Be patient, and ask an endless amount of questions.