What are your childhood memories around food? “Dad would only eat Korean food, so my mom forced my older sister and me to help cook things in copious quantities.”

“I grew up in New Jersey, back when you couldn’t find anything pre-made and Korean ingredients were rare in a very white neighbourhood. Mom was always making kimchi, and our laundry room smelled funky because she was soaking tripe or making fermented rice wine from scratch. We had seaweed drying in the garage, so it was embarrassing having people over. But I loved to eat the food.”

WATCH: Susan Jung shares her kimchi recipe

“I remember having to make hundreds and hundreds of dumplings once a quarter, and mom would systematically freeze them on trays. I was probably not good at it because I’d put in too much or too little meat, and I couldn’t seal them correctly.”

Why did you switch from engineer­ing to finance? “My mom was a chemist and my dad a physician, and they expected us to have a good, stable job. My sister went to Yale; I didn’t get into Yale and went to Columbia.”

“I studied engineering because I thought I was good at math and science in high school, but when I got there, it was the hardest thing ever. But at the time, 1993-97, it was the Wolf of Wall Street days and I had an internship with Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs before I graduated. I did more all-nighters there than I did in high school or university.”

If someone gets their meal five minutes late, it’s the chef’s reputation at stake, but someone didn’t lose a pension or blow up an entire fund
Judy Joo

“I loved working on trading floors where the action was. I ended up at Morgan Stanley as an analyst. The energy of the trading floor is so intense – in banking you work on the same project for eight months, while on the trading floor the project is like eight minutes. It was a sink-or-swim environment and it was electrifying.”

When did you get into cooking? “After five years of this, I didn’t really love it and was running on empty all the time. I used to read cookbooks like they were novels before going to bed. I particularly love pastries and baking, which plays to my science back­ground. In 2004, my fiancé supported me while I did a six-month programme in pastry at the French Culinary Institute, in New York.”

“Then I went to Saveur [magazine], where they told the story of different cultures through food. It was fascinating. I used my scientific background to test recipes. The editors would travel to a small island in the Aegean Sea and bring back a recipe written in Italian by a 100-year-old grandmother, and tell us to recreate it using American ingredients for the American kitchen. We’d make things 25 times, particularly on the pastry side because you had to make the entire thing all over again. On the savoury side, it’s easier to fix and you’re done after 10 tries – five or six, if you’re lucky.”

Nicholas Tse talks about how cooking changed his life

How did you get into TV? “In 2004, my then-husband opened a hedge fund in Europe, and I started working in kitchens in London. Four years later, I met a TV producer at a party and she put me on her talk show. I became a regular guest exploring food. Then, Iron Chef UK came in 2010.”

Was Iron Chef something you wanted to do? “I didn’t think I had a chance in the world. I went to the casting call and they kept calling me back. Everyone was going for it because the franchise was going global. After a gazillion casting calls, it was me, Tom Aikens, Sanjay Dwivedi and Martin Blunos [against whom contestants would compete], who have Michelin stars. It was so hard competing because everything goes wrong: the ice-cream machine doesn’t work, the burners aren’t hot enough. Eight cameras are on you at any given time.”

Tom Aikens, the youngest British chef to have been awarded two Michelin stars

“In 2014, I wanted to do something on Korean food, and now we’re on the third season of Korean Food Made Simple. It appeals to women 18 to 35 years old. I make it simple and accessible, though some of my techniques are not totally authentic. In japchae [Korean sweet potato noodles stir-fried with vegetables], you’re supposed to cook each ingredient separately, and then together at the end – something my mom would do – but I cook them all together.”

You’ve said how it’s hard to work in a restaurant but then you opened your own place – and now have three – two in London, one in Hong Kong. “I think I’ve been underqualified for every job I’ve had, and I’ve just risen to the challenge. I can cook, but it’s not rocket science. You have to have a good palate. It’s harder to go from a chef to a derivatives trader, and I owe my relatively quick success to my education and background.”

“I’m used to being on the trading floor, where someone could lose billions of dollars on a trade, whereas pressure in the kitchen isn’t as stressful. If someone gets their meal five minutes late, it’s the chef’s reputation at stake, but someone didn’t lose a pension or blow up an entire fund.”

Where do you like to eat? “I like simple food. One of my favourite countries to eat in is Italy, and I’m a massive seafood eater. I like to find a grandma and grandpa fishing and grilling fresh seafood on an open grill with a kiss of lemon. I was in Sardinia and there was a grandma making the most amazing pasta with a broomstick handle, [and there were] the freshest clams, tomatoes and olive oil.”

An Italian cookbook specially written for Hong Kong cooks

“I love Korean food, particularly one-trick-pony restaurants where they make soondubu chigae [silken tofu stew, usually with seafood]. I go to BCD Tofu House in New York, and there’s one in Los Angeles. They make their own tofu and you choose between spicy, extra spicy or mega atomic suicide spicy. They give you a raw egg to crack into it.”

“One of my most memorable meals would have to have been at Tsukiji Market [in Tokyo] at 4am, in one of these dive holes tucked on the side of the market and serving the freshest sushi.”

What do you do when you are not working? “I play tennis every week but I’m pretty bad at it. I hiked last time I was in town. We went up The Peak and then came down to Repulse Bay, and then caught a taxi back.”