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July 24, 2014

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Photos: ‘Restaurant Express’ winner Seonkyoung Longest’s American dream is a fusion of Asian cuisines

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Mona Shield Payne

A look inside the Food Network’s “Restaurant Express” winner chef Seonkyoung Longest’s Jayde Fuzion at the M Resort in Las Vegas on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013.

‘Restaurant Express’ Winner Seonkyoung Longest’s Jayde Fuzion

A temperature-controlled wine room in the Food Network’s “Restaurant Express” winner chef Seonkyoung Longest’s Jayde Fuzion at the M Resort in Las Vegas on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013. Launch slideshow »
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Seonkyoung Longest, winner of the Food Network’s “Restaurant Express,” in her new restaurant Jayde Fuzion at the M Resort in Las Vegas on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013.

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The private dining room in the Food Network’s “Restaurant Express” winner chef Seonkyoung Longest’s Jayde Fuzion at the M Resort in Las Vegas on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013.

Click to enlarge photo

A temperature-controlled wine room in the Food Network’s “Restaurant Express” winner chef Seonkyoung Longest’s Jayde Fuzion at the M Resort in Las Vegas on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013.

Seonkyoung Longest’s Jayde Fuzion at M Resort

“Restaurant Express” Season 1 winner Seonkyoung Longest, pictured here with husband Jacob Longest, has opened Jayde Fuzion at the M Resort in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

New chef Seonkyoung Longest has achieved her American dream at age 29, but it wasn’t without sacrifice and hardship.

Longest, who won the Food Network’s “Restaurant Express” on Dec. 15 and two days later opened her first restaurant, Jayde Fuzion at the M Resort as the grand prize in the competition hosted by Robert Irvine, became depressed after failing as a cartoonist in her native South Korea.

The setback led her to professional belly dancing, then love with Master Sgt. Jacob Longest of the U.S. Air Force, a wedding in Las Vegas and a move in 2009 from South Korea to Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. She left behind her father, an organic farmer who to this day will not speak with her because she married a foreigner.

Longest, with no family or friends in Mississippi, became glued to Food Network, and the programs taught her how to cook, as well as the English language.

It also led to her entering “Restaurant Express,” where she would defeat seasoned New Yorker Adam Goldgell to win what would become Jayde Fuzion, Longest’s small-plates Chinese, Japanese and Korean restaurant at the M.

Longest has for years recorded videos of her cooking and posted them on YouTube, which, along with “Restaurant Express,” has garnered her a sizable following.

On the first Friday of business at Jayde Fuzion, I chatted with the understatedly confident executive chef Longest, who greeted her customers table by table, many of whom were fans, as they engaged her in conversation for periods at a time.

Longest, who moved to Las Vegas on Nov. 1, speaks in broken English, but her words are crystal clear in conveying her passion for cooking and hard-work ethic toward achieving her goals.

Congratulations on winning “Restaurant Express.” How does it feel?

Thank you so much. I’m very happy to have won. I didn’t expect to win because, out of everyone, I had the least amount of experience, only three years. And I’m a home cook with no experience in a restaurant. I didn’t expect to be in the finals.

When Robert Irvine was announcing, “And the winner of Season 1 of ‘Restaurant Express’ is …” — it felt like 30 minutes. I was, like, “Say it already!”

You’re a rarity in Las Vegas where, frankly, most of the executive chefs are white men. You’re not only a woman, but an Asian woman. You’re a trailblazer, and it’s very exciting.

I believe in female power, and I am very, very proud that I was born and raised in South Korea. There are many chefs producing great food in Las Vegas. I am not better than them, but I am unique. Everyone has a different style in cooking and presentation, and I’d really like to educate people about Asian cuisine.

How did you come up with the name Jayde Fuzion?

In the show, I had to open a high-end supper club, and I’d never cooked high-end food. I wanted something better than Chop Chop, and the “Seon” part of my name means jade, which is the diamond of Asia. (Seonkyoung is pronounced Sun-Key-Young.)

Had you been to Las Vegas before the competition?

Yes, yes, with my mother and stepdad. We stayed at MGM Grand for two or three nights in 2009. I came back with my husband, my boyfriend at the time, and we got married here.

Las Vegas is a very special city to me. I got married here to my Prince Charming, and it’s where I now have my first amazing job.

Now that you’ve opened your first restaurant, what are you hoping to accomplish in the first year?

For the restaurant, I want to be the best Asian restaurant in Las Vegas, the must-dine restaurant in town. For me, I want to go to L.A. or New York and have my own show on the Food Network. With my own show, I can teach people my recipes and educate people about Asian food.

My ultimate goal in life is to have my charity — based on love, passion and happiness — that would give free, good food to the homeless and show them love and care.

How is Jayde Fuzion fusion cuisine?

My restaurant is Korean, Chinese and Japanese cuisine. Most people are familiar with Japanese sushi and takeout Chinese, and I want people to experience more than that.

When people dine at your restaurant, what are the must-try dishes?

Oh, that’s a really tough question! I really love every single menu item. There is heart in every item, everything is from scratch, nothing is from a jar, nothing is frozen. Everything is fresh and homemade, and we are very proud of that.

You moved here for the show from Mississippi. Is your husband with you?

No. My husband is in the Air Force, and there is no guarantee that he’ll be stationed here. That will be a big challenge for us.

Who were your role models and favorites watching the Food Network?

Robert Irvine, of course. He’s my mentor. And Jamie Oliver is my role model for how he cares about food and people. I really believe in the power of food and that it should be prepared with love and care.

Jayde Fuzion at the M Resort is open daily from 5 to 10 p.m.

Don Chareunsy is senior editor for arts and entertainment of the Las Vegas Sun.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

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