Last seen in London in 1981, fluffy tails, bunny dips and big... ears are set to bounce back into fashion when the new Playboy club launches on 4th June. Taking up residence in Mayfair, the club will offer glamorous gaming, socialising and dining options as well as exclusive opportunities for members. (Membership starts at £1,200 per annum.) The restaurant, allegedly 'the only restaurant within a Mayfair casino where you can still enjoy all of the action of the gaming floor whilst dining', will be helmed by Iron Chef Judy Joo.
Despite starting out with a very different career, Judy's passion for food soon led her to New York's French Culinary Institute and thence to Saveur magazine's test kitchen. She also founded a Slow Food in Schools project in Harlem before moving to London with her husband. Dining in restaurant Gordon Ramsay one evening, she spotted the chef himself and went up to say hello, making such a strong impression that she spent the next two years working in his kitchen. After a spell on Channel 4's Iron Chef she was appointed head chef at the new Playboy club (a 'non-bunny' role) and took time out from her preparations to give us a quick preview:
You started out with a degree in engineering and a career at Morgan Stanley - what made you want to become a chef?
I have always loved food and cooking. Life is too short not to follow your dream. I liked working in finance, but I didn't love it. I have a passion for food.
What made you move to England? How nervous were you about introducing yourself to Gordon Ramsay?
My husband's job prompted the move across the pond. I wasn't nervous introducing myself to Gordon- that was the easy part; I was nervous during my first day of work and having to prove myself in a very tough kitchen.
You've had a very high profile culinary career, what had the most influence on you?
I have met some very helpful people who have mentored me over the years. I have friends who are editors, chefs, writers, and producers; they have made time for me and I am forever grateful.
A lot of people know you from 'Iron Chef', what was that experience like and do you intend to stay with the series?
It was extremely stressful and fun. I had the time of my life and would definitely do it again. I have recently continued with the franchise overseas in the US, as one of 3 judges on 'The Next Iron Chef- Superstars Season'.
How do you feel about working for Playboy?
Playboy is an international iconic brand that represents luxury, sophistication and class. I am proud to be a part of the relaunch of such a famed and loved club in London. They are bringing back all of that glamour of the 60's. The club is chic.
What kind of menu can we expect at the club?
Luxurious American food, with some tantalising twists.
Did you have full control over the menu? What inspired you? Does it reference what was served in the original London club?
I have full control over the restaurant menu. I'm inspired by nostalgia mostly in this venue and my American roots. I am staying very true to the original Playboy menu from the 60's, but modernising it.
What dish should we most look out for?
Duck disco fries. Wikipedia definition: aka poutine, invented in canada, perfected in New Jersey- the glorious state where I grew up. Duck fat fried chips, duck gravy, artisanal cheese curd, confit duck meat. It's awesome.
What's your favourite restaurant in London?
Pollen Street Social. Jason Atherton's food is interesting and inspiring and the space is amazing. I love sitting at the dessert bar. The 'ham, cheese and herbs' dessert is most intriguing.
Finally (because we have to ask..) what's 2011's crop of bunnies like and how do you feel about working with them?
The bunnies are gorgeous girls but they also have a 'girl next door' quality. They have really sweet demeanours, and the Bunny croupiers will be the best dealers in the business. We are even bringing back some of the old school dealing techniques- pinkies up, and backhand table sweeps.
The Playboy Club launches on 4th June at 14 Old Park Lane. For more details visit www.playboyclublondon.com