'Cooking saved my life': From Korea to Columbus, YouTube and beyond

May 22, 2013 11:19:16 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


When Seonkyoung Longest came to the United States in 2009 from her native South Korea, her world was a happy place. She had met and married her Prince Charming -- Jacob Longest of the United States Air Force -- and was about to begin the next chapter in a new land. What she didn't realize was that her fairy tale was about to meet reality. 


The former professional illustrator and competitive belly dancer brought with her a wealth of creativity and an exuberance for living -- and, for a while, life was idyllic. But eventually, new culture, no family, no friends and no driver's license began to weigh heavily. 


Jacob, who is currently stationed at Columbus Air Force Base, was coming home every day for lunch, but it wasn't enough. "I had a really hard time first year," said Seonkyoung. "I couldn't even enjoy watching TV as much as I did in Korea because I could not understand (the language) as well." 


Enter the Food Network channel. Seonkyoung didn't have to comprehend every word to follow the actions of Rachael Ray, Paula Deen, Emeril or Bobby Flay. The more she watched, the more inspired she became and soon was trying to replicate some of their dishes in her own kitchen. 


"I started to cook every day, try something new that I saw on TV," she explained. "I never follow exact recipe -- not because I thought I could make it better but because we were on a budget so I had to substitute a lot for less expensive ingredients." 


As confidence blossomed, she reveled in giving each recipe a personal twist. "I finally create a totally new recipe all by myself. Happiness was there with me, so I cooked more, more, more and more," she beamed. 




Wider world 


Before long, Seonkyoung was eager to share her new-found passion for cooking. 


"Because I made Jacob happy with my food and it felt so good I wanted to do more with more people." 


She began with a small camera in a room in her home and has now produced about 90 cooking videos for YouTube. That room is now her "studio," equipped with special lighting to show off the food she makes for her three YouTube shows: "Asian at Home," introducing a traditional Asian dish each segment; "Chop Chop," featuring quick-fix Asian dishes and plenty of shortcuts; and "Seonkyoung's Kitchen," highlighting non-Asian cuisine. 


"Cooking saved my life. It really did," declared the 29-year-old who recently emerged from about 40,000 hopefuls to make the Top 100 finalists for MasterChef Season 4, which premieres tonight on Fox. She's the only Mississippian to do so. On the show, Chef Gordon Ramsey, restaurateur Joe Bastianich and acclaimed chef Graham Elliot will put contestants through the culinary ringer to find America's rising stars. It's been a remarkable fast track for Seonkyoung, who began cooking in earnest about three years ago. 


Jacob has been her No. 1 fan, encouraging her every step of the way. 


"I've had food I thought was good, until I had this," he said, referring to Seonkyoung's cooking and a representative feast of savory, nutty Bulgogi lettuce wrap (a Korean barbecue lettuce wrap), a light-as-air Berry Lady Cake, Korean salmon rolls and crab sushi. 


"And don't let the Korean part fool you; she makes the best shrimp and grits ever," the master sergeant grinned. 


"My grits are literally top notch, so creamy. I use chicken stock instead of water," his wife said, revealing one of her steps, which she learned from Columbus chef Marty Wages.  


Cooking has become a creative passion for Seonkyoung, just as her artwork and professional dancing were. And it's one she's eager to pursue, wherever it may take her. Jacob will be there, still cheering her on. 


"Whatever she cooks," he said, "seems like she somehow makes it a little better." 


And that two-hour premiere of MasterChef tonight on Fox? You'll want to tune in.  






  • SeonkyougLongest.com 


  • YouTube.com/SeonkyoungLongest 








    Cooking spray 


    1/2 cup and 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour 


    350g eggs (6 1arge or 5 extra-large) room temperature, separated  


    3/4 cup sugar 


    1 tablespoon water, room temp  


    3 tablespoons vegetable oil 


    1 tablespoon hot water  


    3 tablespoons honey  


    2 cups heavy cream  


    3 tablespoons convection sugar, plus more for dusting 


    1 teaspoon vanilla extract 


    1 /3 cup sliced strawberries for layering 


    1 pound mixture of fresh strawberries, raspberries and blueberries for topping, wash and keep it whole 


    30+ ladyfingers 




  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease two 8-inch cake pans with cooking spray and line with parchment paper.  


  • Sift flour in a mixing bowl.  


  • In a stand mixer filled with whisk attachment, beat egg whites until frothy, about I minute. With the machine on medium-high speed, gradually add sugar, I /4 cup at a time. Increase speed to high and beat until mixture is thick and holds stiff peaks, about 5 min. Reduce speed to low; add egg yolks one at a lime, beat for I min. Add water and oil, beat for 10 sec. 


  • Using a spatula, fold in shifted flour. Mix it completely. Pour I /2 batter onto each prepared cake pans. Slam on to a hard surface a couple limes. This will compress batter and get most of the air out. Bake for 15 to 18 min. 


  • Let it cool a couple of minutes, then remove from cake pan and discard parchment paper. Let it cool completely before put whipped cream, about 30 min. 


  • Meanwhile, combine hot water and honey, mix well and set aside. Beat heavy cream with sugar and vanilla until it holds stiff peaks.  


  • To assemble, place one layer on a flat serving plate, brush with I /2 of honey syrup and spread with I /3 of whipped cream. Lay thinly sliced strawberries. Place second layer on top, brush with remaining honey syrup and cover top and sides with remaining whipped cream. 


  • To decorate cake, Press ladyfingers along the outside of the cake, spacing them evenly. Dot the top of the surface with mixture of 3 berries. Dust with convection sugar. Refrigerate until ready to serve. 








    l/4 cup soy sauce  


    3 tablespoons brown sugar  


    2 tablespoons rice wine or dry red wine  


    l tablespoon toasted sesame oil, plus 2 tablespoons more for sir frying  


    Fresh ground black pepper  


    5 cloves garlic, finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)  


    l/2 medium size onion, small diced  


    l l/2 pound good quality lean ground beef  


    l/2 cup shiitake mushrooms, small diced  


    3 green onions, chopped  


    Toasted sesame seeds 




  • Combine first 5 ingredients through black pepper in a small mixing bowl and set aside.  


  • Heat sesame oil in a wok or a large size skillet over high heat, swirl to coat; add garlic and onion stir fry for 2 minutes. Add beef stir-fry about 8 min to l 0 min until beef is nice browned. Breakdown with a wooden spoon. Add shiitake mushroom and soy sauce mixture stir fry 3 more minutes until everything combines together.  


  • Remove from heat, stir in green onion. Transfer to a serving plate and top with sesame seeds as desired. Serve with warm cooked rice, green lettuce and spicy pickled cucumber. Serve with prepared rice. 








    1 tablespoon soy sauce  


    3 tablespoons Korean black vinegar or aged balsamic vinegar  


    1/4 teaspoon Sriracha  


    1/2 mini gourmet cucumber, cut into long thin strips 


    1 mini yellow sweet pepper, cut into long thin strips 


    1 mini red sweet pepper, cut into long thin strips 


    1 medium purple cabbage leaf, cut into long thin strips 


    1 avocado, cut into long thin strips  


    8 ounces smoked salmon 




  • Combine soy sauce, vinegar and sriracha in a small mixing bowl and set aside.  


  • Take thin piece of salmon and lay on a clean work surface. Place a small amount of cucumber, peppers. cabbage, and avocado on each salmon. You want to do this 2/3 of way down. closer to you. So you'll have room to roll it. Lift up the end nearest you and tuck over, rolling upwards tightly. Seam side down, cut it into halves.  


  • Serve cold with premade sauce.

    Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.