One-on-One with the Winner of Restaurant Express
After seven weeks of showdowns, Robert Irvine's first-ever Restaurant Express road trip came full circle when the bus rolled into Sin City for the finale. Robert shocked the remaining three hopefuls last week when he announced all of them would make it to tonight's all-or-nothing competition. But while Adam Goldgell was guaranteed a spot in the last challenge, Jan Charles and Seonkyoung Longest had to go head-to-head in a cook-off for the chance to join him in one night of restaurant service for the chance to claim the win.
Read on below to find out whether Jan or Seon advanced to the end, and get the exclusive first interview with the winner of Restaurant Express and Las Vegas' newest restaurateur.
Although both Jan and Seon struggled with elements of the dish and menu they presented to Robert, Seon's was more successful in its flavor and originality, and she earned the chance to face off against Adam for the restaurant opportunity of a lifetime. Adam and Seon had 48 hours to shop for and cook an eight-plate menu, plus decorate their eateries and work with their staff, before they opened side-by-side concepts — America and Jade — showcasing small plates and contemporary Asian fare, respectively. Robert dined with executives from the M Resort Spa & Casino at both restaurants, but ultimately Adam's inconsistency cost him the win, and Seon became the newest chef at the hotel.
Congratulations on your win, Seon! Take us back to the moment you heard your name announced as the winner. What was going through your mind?
Seonkyoung Longest: I think when I heard my name I didn’t realize that was my name. I was kind of blank in my head, and I actually asked, I think it was Bianca — she was right next to me. And I looked at her, and she said, “Yes, that was your name.” Then I realized I was the winner. It was crazy. I don’t remember every single moment. All I was to think was, like: “I cannot believe it. I cannot believe it.”
Thinking about the last seven weeks of competition, what was the most-difficult challenge for you, and why?
SL: The most difficult one was probably the very first week's challenge, because I really didn’t know what to expect from the challenge, and I’ve never had a time limit …. And also, the … [food truck] challenge was a very hard one, too — we cooked three times [in] a day. It was mentally and physically the hardest one.
You seemed to struggle a bit throughout the contest with your confidence, but at the very end you seemed to say, “I can do anything.” What was the turning point in the competition for you?
SL: I always struggle with my confidence. I don’t know why. I just keep telling myself, “Who do you think you are?” and things like that, but I would keep thinking like that [in] the beginning of the competition, too. But then I talked with Robert, just a one-on-one, and he told me lots of good stuff that I needed to remember for myself, that he reminded me of it …. He told me: “You can do anything. If you can put your mind in it, you can do anything.” That’s why I started telling myself: “I can do anything. I can do anything.” He would make me repeat that part – "I can do anything" – that’s why I kept repeating myself. And, yeah, I think the self-talk to myself, "I can do anything," was very, very helpful, and I cannot say thank you enough to Chef Robert.
Tell us about life on the bus. You, Adam and Jan were on board for the longest time. What would you do to keep busy during the long rides?
SL: Adam, I think he used to sleep in the back. And Jan, Jan is always reading a book. I don’t know how she does it because I cannot read books in the car. She always was reading books, and I’m like … I tried to talk to Jan, or I’m trying to sleep, or watching [a] movie, or things like that. Or playing Sudoku.
When is Jade opening, and how is the planning for the restaurant going?
SL: We are opening the restaurant on the 17th [of December] …. The design team of the hotel did a really great job. I was really impressed. The restaurant looks beautiful. All the china, everybody working there is great. Our cook – the back of the house – the cooks are, I think we are, another dream team …. I just cannot be thankful more than right now. I’m so grateful.
Are you sticking with a menu of contemporary Asian cuisine at Jade that we saw you try out on the show?
SL: Yes, I am keeping that concept. It’s not because I cannot do anything else; it’s because that is what I’m most passionate about.
Are you putting any Restaurant Express dishes on the menu at Jade?
SL: They actually want me to do some of the dishes that I made on Restaurant Express. The very first episode I made a crab salad with crispy wontons. They really loved it, and that is on the menu. And there’s several other dishes I made. The Korean fried chicken, that is also on the menu.
So far, how has your experience on Restaurant Express prepared you for being involved in Jade?
SL: I think mentally, actually the competition was a lot harder. I think that was boot camp to open a restaurant, before you open a restaurant, to learn everything [in] a short time with [a] hard-core mentor, which is Chef Robert be[ing] really hard on us …. Every single thing that he taught me about the restaurant — the price point, what people want, thinking about the customers and how you want to market things, people coming to your restaurant, everything — it shined through right now to the restaurant.
SL: People [will] taste my food. ‘Cause I have been making lots of YouTube videos, and I’m still making them (I made all the recipe videos from the Restaurant Express show too). But that is one thing I really enjoy, but [at the] same time, people cannot taste my food or what I’ve made. They just can try my recipe, and this is something that I make, and I serve on their table. And they are actually eating the food instead of trying the recipe. It’s two different things, and I’m very excited about it. It’s my first restaurant ever.
SL: I want to say thank you to him, like big thank to him, for mentoring me in the right track. And I learned so much from him, and it was an honor to learn from him everything that he knows about the restaurant and restaurant business — and about the food. And I just wanted to say [to] him thank you, and it was an honor.