Special Sauce: Kenji on Cooking for His Kid, and Maangchi on Becoming a YouTube Sensation [1/2]

Maangchi. Maangchi. Maangchi! Need I say more?

On this week’s Special Sauce I had a chance to sit down with YouTube cooking sensation Maangchi, who, in addition to being an inspiration to all of us here at Serious Eats, is our associate producer Grace’s hero. And I discovered she’s an impossibly engaging woman, as charming and disarmingly forthright as anyone we’ve had on.

And her path to success was definitely unorthodox: Maangchi went from living in a room in the back of her father’s seafood auction house in Korea, to cooking fried chicken and burritos for her grocery store manager boss in Toronto, to becoming a master video gamer (that’s when she came up with her nom de game, Maangchi), to teaching millions of people on YouTube how to cook real Korean food. Her life would make a great movie.

But before we get to Maangchi’s story in this episode, Serious Eater Little Chefs Dubai asked Kenji, “What are your favorites to cook with [your daughter] Alicia?” I won’t give away Kenji’s answer, but I will tell you that Alicia is an accomplished and willing sous chef and she’s not even three.

And, finally, to finish, we have the latest dispatch from the Serious Eats test kitchen, with Stella weighing in on no-bake cookies. “I have a secret to share with you about no-bake cookies,” Stella says. But to hear what that secret is, you’ll have to tune in.

Maangchi, Kenji, Alicia, Stella: This episode is indeed a very special Special Sauce.


Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce 2.0, Serious Eats’ podcast about food and life. Every week on Special Sauce, we begin with Ask Kenji, where Kenji Lopez-Alt, Serious Eats’ chief culinary consultant, gives the definitive answer to the question of the week that a serious eater like you has sent us. What are your favorites to cook with your Alicia?

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt: Anything that involves getting your hands messy in a bowl.

EL: After Ask Kenji, a conversation with our guest. Today is Maangchi day on Special Sauce. Yeah. Emily Kim, A.KA Maangchi, the queen of Korean cooking on YouTube, is in the house.

Maangchi: I feel like eating some hot Korean noodle soup. Okay. Topped with kimchi and hot pepper paste. Oh, I miss this.

EL: And finally, on today’s podcast, a teachable moment from the Serious Eats test kitchen.

Stella Parks: I have a secret to share with you about no-bake cookies. It’s just fudge.

EL: First up, our chief culinary consultant, author of The Food Lab, Kenji Lopez-Alt. And Kenji, serious eater Little Chefs Dubai asks, “What are your favorites to cook with your Alicia?” Alicia.

JKLA: It’s Alicia. Yeah, it’s the Spanish pronunciation. What do we cook together? I mean, honestly, everything. I don’t repeat that many dishes at home. We try and cook different things every day, and she helps me almost every day. I could tell you some of her favorite activities to do. Definitely helping make dough, helping make pancake batter. We made pancake batter yesterday morning. Two days ago, she helped me marinate chicken breasts for the grill. That involved picking herbs, and then we pounded some garlic in a mortar and pestle. I chopped the herbs, and then we mixed up the garlic, and the herbs, and a little bit of olive oil and mayonnaise, in a bowl. She whisked that all together. And then we added the chicken. Oh, I butterflied the chicken breasts, and then she helped me pound them. I put them in a plastic bag and she kind of whacked them with the bottom of her hand. And then, she really loves getting her hands messy, so, once the chicken breasts were in that bowl with the marinade, just massaging them, and turning them over and over and stuff, she really loves that.

And I think that’s a nice thing to do with her, because she’s at an age now where, you know, we’ve been doing this in the kitchen since she could stand. And, since before she could stand, she’s been sitting on the kitchen counter, but she’s now finally at the age where I can kind of trust her and tell her, “Hey, Alicia, this is raw chicken. Don’t put it in your mouth. When you’re done doing this, we have to wash your hands,” and trust that she’s not going to do that. Once you reach that phase, a whole bunch of new things open up. I can teach her how to use knives now and tell her to keep her hands away from the blade, tell her to keep away from hot pots and pans, et cetera. Opens up a lot of new territory for us as far as what kinds of things she can participate in.

I would say her number one favorite activity, and the best kitchen tool that I own for a toddler, is a small mortar and pestle. I have a large granite mortar and pestle, a two-cup capacity, that I use, and then she has a small one that’s, I think, three-quarters or maybe one cup, a little marble one, and it fits her hand nicely. Whenever I’m pounding something in my mortar and pestle, which is a few times a week, almost every day, then she’ll get to pound stuff, too. And pounding is something that little kids love to do.

EL: Who doesn’t love to pound? Has Alicia imparted any kitchen wisdom to you, or is it still a one-way street now?

JKLA: Certainly flavor-wise, she’s much more experimental than me. She is totally willing to smash together two things that I would think are kind of disgusting. But what she has taught me is, obviously, patience, and yeah, taught me to give myself more time in the kitchen during while we’re cooking, because, if I’m cooking by myself, I go as fast as I can, and I multitask, and I do all this and all that. And, oftentimes, even if, if I’m cooking and I’m planning a dinner party, and some guests show up early, and they want to help in the kitchen, it flusters me, because I’m like, “Oh, shit. I’m already, I have all these things planned. I guess you could do that, you could do that.” It flusters me when people ask if they can help and I hadn’t planned on people helping, just because I have things going at a certain pace, so this has taught me to take my time in the kitchen, when I plan for it, and make sure, “All right, dinner is going to take at least half an hour, 45 minutes to make instead of 15 minutes, because Alicia’s going to be helping me pound the garlic. It takes her much longer to peel an onion.” We have to set aside time that I can talk to her about the non-uniformness of her onion slices. Stuff like that. I’m just kidding. I don’t-

EL: I know. I know. I know, I know. Nobody’s-

JKLA: In case anyone’s afraid. I know there are people on the Internet-

EL: It’s true.

JKLA: … who would believe it, but, anyhow.

EL: There’s some people with a limited sense of humor here.

JKLA: Yeah, I think it’s more just been, it’s good lessons on how to interact with toddlers, and how to interact with adults. It teaches you patience. And there’s this really great NPR article I read a while back about how children in South American families tend to do a lot more chores around the house, and they don’t resent the chores as much as children in American families do. And the theory, and I think this is actually, is a now scientifically-proven theory, was that children in South American households tend to be given work much earlier and trusted to do it. Whereas, in the U.S., even me, I find myself, it’s like, I’m so busy trying to get dinner done, I’m busy trying to get the dishwasher done, that often I’m like, “All right, Alicia, I need to get these done now. Why don’t you go run and play?” So, instead of getting her to practice doing the dishwasher, and making her feel like she’s valued as a dishwasher, or as a floor cleaner, or as an assistant cook, or whatever, instead she learns, “All right, this is the time for my parents to do this. I’m going to run and play.” And so, the parents get stuck cleaning all the time, whereas in South American families, they don’t tend to do that.

They tend to throw the kids in and say, “All right, you’re going to do the dishes. I don’t care if it takes you 45 minutes to do something that would take me five minutes, but you’re going to do them.” And you find, if you do that when they’re little kids, and I’ve totally experienced this, you do it when they’re really little kids, from the time they’re 18 months old, 12 months old, they get into it, and they don’t resent it. And so, Alicia asks to do the dishes. She asks to sweep the floor. And she’s at the point now where she can actually do it. She can do the dishes and get them cleaned. It takes her longer, but … It started out, of course, with many days and days of dishwater on the floor, broken dishes, all that kind of stuff, because you have to let them make a mess before they learn how not to.

EL: I wish I knew this when Will was little. I wish you had imparted this wisdom to me.

JKLA: Well, everybody has their own tricks. I am waiting on the other foot … On the other foot? On the other shoe to drop. Is that the phrase? What is the phrase? The other shoe to drop. On her and becoming hyper-picky about eating. She hasn’t yet, but I hear it’s coming.

EL: This enables me to give your children’s book a plug, even though it’s not going to be coming out for a year, right?

JKLA: Oh, yeah.

EL: Have you settled on a title?

JKLA: I have. The book is called Every Night is Pizza Night.

EL: It’s still called, that still was my favorite. I’m glad you stuck with that.

JKLA: Yeah, that’s my favorite. We are sticking with it. And I actually just got all the, all the stuff for the cover is, the illustrations are done now. I just got those in yesterday.

EL: That’s cool.

JKLA: It’s pretty exciting. It’s nice. It’s nice. I can now print it out and bind it myself and read it to Alicia, see how she likes it.

EL: Thanks, Kenji. Kenji Lopez-Alt is Serious Eats’ chief culinary consultant and the author of The Food Lab. Do send in your questions to Kenji to specialsauce@seriouseats.com.

Now it’s time to meet Maangchi. Maangchi has introduced Korean food to millions of people through her insanely popular YouTube show that she started in 2007. How insane? Well, she’s at almost 4 million subscribers and counting. Maangchi is also the author of two bestselling cookbooks, Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking and, just out, Maangchi’s Big Book of Korean Cooking. Welcome to Special Sauce, Maangchi.

Maangchi: Thank you so much for having me.

EL: Oh, my God. You caused such a stir at Serious Eats World Headquarters when we told them that Maangchi was coming on the show. It was like “Wow, you really got Elvis. You got Elvis, you got Elvis and Maangchi!”

Maangchi: Thank you.

EL: Tell us about life at your family table growing up.

Maangchi: Until my junior high school, I was growing up in the city of Yeosu, South Korea, which is located as southernmost harbor city.

EL: How far from Seoul?

Maangchi: From Seoul, maybe 350 kilometer. Yeah, around a four-hour distance by car. And just my life, when I was young, was always in the southern part of Korea, and just the city, Yeosu. City of Yeosu is very famous for delicious seafood. Even-

EL: For delicious seafood?

Maangchi: Yeah, even now. And then, my father was running a business, it’s a seafood auction business.

EL: A seafood auction business.

Maangchi: Yeah. We were living almost on the dock. Near the-

EL: Wow.

Maangchi: Right on the ocean. And, because, in the back of the auction house, there was a room where we were staying for a while, so, sometimes—

EL: The whole family was staying in that room?

Maangchi: Yeah, yeah. And we were very poor, but not very poor. I never felt we were poor, that’s our lives.

EL: But you were certainly not rich.

Maangchi: Not rich. But food is always abundant. Seafood, especially. Fishermen from all over, they brought to their nice catch, tons of tons of fish to sell. And sometimes they gave us for free as a gift. And that’s why my house has always, always, always delicious seafood.

EL: Wow. That must’ve been why your very first video was octopus.

Maangchi: First video of seafood, the stuffed fried squid.

EL: Squid, I’m sorry. Not octopus. Yeah. Did your mother just cook the seafood very simply?

Maangchi: We just ate, depending on how she cooks, or sometimes she dried fish, and then steamed later, or, and then, later, she added some seasoning sauce on top that’s amazingly delicious. Sometimes she braised, sometimes she made fish soup and fish stew, and sometimes just raw, because that’s a really caught fresh fish. We are always, every day, almost every day, we ate raw fish.

EL: Wow. Is raw fish a thing in Korea?

Maangchi: Oh, yeah, it’s like, Japanese version is sashimi, but, in Korean, we call this hweh. So, hweh-

EL: Hweh.

Maangchi: Hweh.

EL: Hweh.

Maangchi: Hweh.

EL: Hweh.

Maangchi: Okay.

EL: I’m trying.

Maangchi: That’s great. The hweh is just always available. My mom, for example, she made that, the fish is like a butterfish. It look like some square shape, and thin. When it’s very fresh, it looked like silver, silver color. And my mom just sliced this, including bones, because the bones are very smooth enough to chew. She made a special paste, some soybean paste, hot pepper paste, lots of garlic, Sesame oil, Sesame seeds, and mixed in also lot of vinegar, and we dipping in this. We eating with some green chili pepper. This is a combination. This is a fantastic combination, but sadly I cannot find it this kind of fresh fish here, so only I have to braise.

EL: Got it.

Maangchi: So, depending on the fish, how fresh it is, and also how she feels that, how to make this, depending on, the situation.

EL: Like a fish whisperer, or-

Maangchi: Exactly. All my, even in Yeosu, I used to go to school, elementary school, junior high school. My friends are, they asked me always questions about, “Hey, what kind of fish is this?” I always gave a joke. Any fishy question come to me. They were laughing.

EL: You were the fish whisperer! You told the story in one of the books about the way you schedule lunch at school.

Maangchi: Oh, yeah. This is from my first book, yeah, yeah.

EL: Yeah. Tell us about that.

Maangchi: Well, at that time, I was elementary school.

EL: Elementary school.

Maangchi: Yeah. And then, I was first child of five children for my parents. And then, I was always a leader, and so, that’s why I started cooking in early age, maybe fourth grade. But, also, I organize it very well. In my classroom, I just organized, say, “Okay, let’s make a bimbimbap tomorrow. I will bring rice and sesame oil and hot pepper paste. You guys bring spinach, you guys bring soy bean sprouts, and then you guys are putting one large basil, okay, because we need to mix some kind of, we needed that.” And then my friends are, “Okay,” so they bring this, very excited, everybody excited. Several people, we just organize this kind of lunch, and then, okay, they bring just with rice, and sesame oil, and hot pepper paste, gochujang, and then mix it all together with this some cabbage, the kimchi, and all kind of vegetable.

EL: This is some very adventurous eating for a 10-year-old.

Maangchi: Yeah, no, not 10 year, maybe the fifth grade, 12, or something like that.

EL: Well, okay.

Maangchi: And all these girls are love, love that. We ate, smells, sesame oil smells everywhere. Show up with this classroom, and other guys who didn’t join us, and they were so envious of that they have to eat the cold lunchbox. Looking at that. “Next time, please include us.”

EL: Food was around you. You’re literally living in back of the place, for a while, at least, of the place-

Maangchi: Couple of years, yeah. Mm-hmm.

EL: … that your dad was auctioning off fish. I assume wholesaling to restaurants or whatever.

Maangchi: Yeah.

EL: So, you were always into food, right? Food was always … What did food mean to you at that point? Was it a way to bring people together? What was it that appealed to you?

Maangchi: Number one, I enjoy the food, number one, because, even now, I feel like eating some hot, Korean noodle soup. Okay. Topped with kimchi and hot paper paste there. Oh, I miss this. With anchovy kelp stock, I make it. If I love it, I have to enjoy first.

EL: So the first thing is, you think it’s seriously delicious. Yeah.

Maangchi: And the number two is, I want to share with the people who enjoy this, my own food. People say, “Hey, Korean food, I don’t like the Korean food. I don’t like the kimchi texture.” Says to me, I don’t have power. Okay. I cannot make them very happy, so I don’t feel like cooking. But anybody who, around me, especially my readers, they love Korean food, and I just, comfortably, I cooking and sharing my food, and they love this. We just compliment each other. That’s because that’s my food.

EL: And it’s been that way since you were 12.

Maangchi: Yeah, it’s fourth grade. Even before that, I’m the first to try the, my mom was a schoolteacher, so she always got the job. I learned, I had to follow to her, live with her. At the time, we were living separated from my father. My father was still doing some auction business in Yeosu, the harbor city.

EL: Right. But you are living with him?

Maangchi: Yeah. My mom was, just got the job in Narodo Island, a still Southern part of some island, and then my older life until six or seven years, or, no, until second grade elementary, I was living in that island with my mom. And my mom was the schoolteacher where I was going. And then, later, my mom and father just joined together in Yeosu. We moved.

EL: They reconciled.

Maangchi: Yeah, no, they were just close enough, but a situation is, my mom had to make money.

EL: Everything’s complicated, isn’t it?

Maangchi: Yeah. Yeah. But, for me, just I was following my mom, and then my mom’s still in Yeosu, her job was far away from the city, so she had to commute. She came home late sometimes.

EL: Got it.

Maangchi: I’m the first child, so I have to arrange some meal for my siblings.

EL: So you were cooking for the family?

Maangchi: Yeah. My siblings. Just arrange, first I studied arrange, okay, kimchi, some leftover side dishes, rice, and just I made them kind of a simple meal. But, later, really seriously, I wanted to do some cooking. Always I like to do, whenever I see my mom, grandmother, they are chopping, especially they cut into matchsticks, radish matchsticks, chop-chop-chop-chop so quickly. And then I was so, “I got to do, I got to do.” At the time I was maybe fourth grade, and one day nobody was around me, with one radish, my kitchen knife, I just practiced. And then, while I was practicing, why I’m remembering this is that I hurt many times. My finger, my finger just cut slice this-

EL: You sliced your finger.

Maangchi: … and then one finger was bleeding, but I didn’t give up, and I got to do this again, and maybe two or three times bleeding. So, my fingers are all bloody, but still I want, that’s my, kind of first matchsticks I tried to do.

EL: Yeah. That’s funny, because every cook or chef has that story, but I don’t think they ever had it when they were 12.

Maangchi: But, I think that if I had some more wise enough, or something I learned from real person, probably I wouldn’t have hurt my fingers.

EL: You wouldn’t have made, well, you don’t know. You might’ve made different mistakes.

Maangchi: Just pretended my mom, what she was doing, and then just cut my finger. But I never told my mom I hurt my finger. If I told her she will give me a hard time. Tons of hard time.

EL: Wow.

Maangchi: “Why you did that,” you know. Just, also, nobody noticed that, because so many children she had, she’s busy, and my father is busy. Kind of my life.

EL: Wow. Were your initial career goals food-oriented or no?

Maangchi: What the-

EL: What did you think you wanted to do? We know you were bossing your friends around and telling them what to bring for lunch at the school. Did you think that food would play a role in your work life?

Maangchi: No. Food is always in my heart. Delicious food, making delicious food, and being creative, but just I studied, just like other people, in Seoul, from high school. And then university, I have a Bachelor degree in social studies. And social studies, after that, I wanted to study more, so I went to graduate school. I studied philosophy of education. After that, I worked as a teaching assistant, research assistant for my advisor professor.

EL: Got it. You had embarked on an academic’s career?

Maangchi: Yeah, yeah. And then I kept going. I was going to study for PhD to foreign country, and then I got, eventually, around that time, even without a PhD degree, you could do work for university. So, I got some part-time professor at the time. I taught the philosophy of, Introduction of Philosophy.

EL: Wow.

Maangchi: Western philosophy. And then, then I married. I married husband, got the job. Again, southern part. That is Gwangju. It’s a mecca of kimchi. Even the city has a kimchi museum now.

EL: Kimchi museum.

Maangchi: Yeah. Because that city is famous, famous for kimchi.

EL: Are there many kimchi museums, or only one?

Maangchi: One kimchi museum, and they have all kinds of showing, displaying and all. You can check out. Kimchi, so, I learned the totally different style of kimchi making. This is, now my kimchi recipe on YouTube, my website is almost similar to Gwangju, Gwangju kimchi.

EL: Got it.

Maangchi: The kimchi is a really heavy, heavy paste we use, difference.

EL: Your husband was an academic, you came over to the States with him initially. He was getting a PhD at the University of Missouri.

Maangchi: Yeah. He came to Missouri as a visiting scholar. And then, three years we lived there, from 1992 to 1995. For three years. That was a big, big surprise, and totally like opened my viewpoint about food. And also other things, culture. Because everything was, when I went, there was a Columbia, Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, and now, just Columbia, Missouri is a small, small city. But, at the time for me,”Wow, this is big, America is so big.” Just like when I went to Seoul for the first time from Yeosu city girl and went to Seoul, everything was big. So many people, transportation. And so, I was dizzy. But, this time, when I went to Missouri, Columbia, and that was like, “Wow, this America is so big,” and we drive this, everything’s a horizon. Even I don’t see any mountain here. I couldn’t believe.

EL: You were in the Midwest, you were in Missouri. Then you end up moving back to Korea.

Maangchi: Korea, yeah.

EL: You had two children.

Maangchi: Yeah, two children.

EL: And then you and your husband ended up getting divorced.

Maangchi: Divorced, mm-hmm.

EL: And, at that time, were you working?

Maangchi: Yeah, I work, I taught English. I taught English, and because Korea is a learning-English boom everywhere. And also, I studied it at the University of Missouri a little bit, some course, I took some courses, and also ESL. ESL school all the time I stayed-

EL: Got it.

Maangchi: … while I was staying, I studied there. So, when I went to back to Korea, lot of people want to learn English from me. So, I taught there everywhere, like, some cultural center, women’s association, and sometimes a university, English grammar. And I was a very busy instructor at that time.

EL: Got it.

Maangchi: But still, whatever I did, I was interested in making some delicious food.

EL: So, even when you were teaching English to elderly Korean woman, you were thinking about …

Maangchi: Western style. When the lecture was done and we had this some party, and then I brought, okay, now, home-baked chocolate chip cookies. I brought it. Everybody, “Oh, my God. So delicious. Oh my God.” The Korean people love that. Also chocolate chip cookie different food for-

EL: So you started your culinary career in potluck suppers.

Maangchi: Exactly. And when I was living in Missouri, Columbia, also, I met a lot of experts. They are PhD candidate, or they just have followed their spouse to take care of them. We had some on a regular basis, potluck party. Usually happens in a park. Usually we start with some, the Korean barbecue, but everybody has to bring one kind of special dish. And then I learned so many different kinds of regional dish at the time.

EL: Wow.

Maangchi: I came from southern part of Korea. I lived in Seoul. In Seoul, just I studied university, only just the food that, I made that kind of food in neighborhood in my cultural, regional food. But, when I went to Columbia, Missouri, ironically, the experts, I learned from these ladies.

EL: Interesting. You go back to Korea with your husband, you have two little kids, maybe not so little at this point.

Maangchi: No. The son was already junior high school.

EL: Ended up getting divorced and deciding to move to, you decided to move to Toronto.

Maangchi: Yeah, I was going to start in USA first, because my mom is living, so I went to LA first, and then I tried to find a job, not easy for me, because I didn’t have any, the immigration status. And then I was looking for a job, and then, later, I decided, my friends are living in Canada, and my best friends are who used to work with me in the same institute. Oh, I forgot to tell you. I also worked in the Korean, some English Institute as a teacher, so I met a lot of English native speakers. I used to help them, because they are living in foreign countries. They need sometimes a Korean translator. I used to help them.

EL: Interesting.

Maangchi: So, now they are willing to help me. In Canada, my friend is living, so I went to Canada, and then I got a job, and just I did all-

EL: But, before you got a job, I guess, as a counselor, right, I read that you worked as an extra. You had all kinds of weird jobs.

Maangchi: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

EL: I guess you were just trying to figure out a way to make it work in Toronto.

Maangchi: Yeah. But, luckily, my English ability, no matter where I go, Korean immigrants want to learn English from me.

EL: Wow.

Maangchi: So, I-

EL: That sustained you.

Maangchi: Yeah, I never starved, because I can teach even the tutoring, so, hourly, I charge them, and then I make enough money to survive. But, always, even in Canada, I was, you talk about all kinds of jobs. I was a movie extra. I was a cashier. Cashier job was just right next door, was some, the big grocery store. I went there, I’m, “Who is the manager here?” And then, “Who manages over there?” Somebody says, “I went there, can you give me a job? I just came from Korea, I need the money.” And then he says, “Oh, can you bring your resume?” And then I gave him resume next day, all kinds of good stuff. Master degree, blah, blah, blah. And he later called me, a couple of days later, he asked me to come. He said, “Okay, you work here, but we don’t need some high education job, just all we need cashier right now.”

EL: Right. And he wanted to make sure that you knew you were overqualified and that this is the job he had for you.

Maangchi: Yeah. But I was so happy to have a job, because that’s the one way of learning different culture. As a cashier, holy, that was a difficult job. I was working with another girl, right next to me, standing. I got a lot of hard time from her because I don’t memorize PLU, you know the PLU? Anyway, that was after that, even I was going to sell my food there. “Oh. If I bring my Korean fried chicken here, people would buy it, and then I can make a better one here.” So, also-

EL: So, you made a batch of Korean fried chicken and brought it to the store?

Maangchi: Yeah. Brought to, I asked the manager, “Can I bring some? You can taste it first.” I brought my dakgangjeong, sweet, crunchy chicken, even in my cookbook, and he tasted it, but there was peanuts. I use peanuts, he’s allergic. He has the allergy. So, that’s kind of a-

EL: Bad move, Maangchi!

Maangchi: Yeah. So, that’s not, I think, my destiny. Okay, if I-

EL: Did he go into anaphylactic shock? What happened?

Maangchi: If I sold this well, probably Maangchi never be born, could then you imagine? And the funny thing is that I made a burrito, okay, not Korean food. There is a burrito. Burrito, cold burrito. So, okay, I can make a burrito as long as I eat a lot of ingredients inside, make it plump. I made a burrito, nice burrito. One guy was, he was a manager over some kind of apartment right there. He always come stop by there. Always he take the burrito, that’s his lunch. I asked him, “You want to taste the my burrito?” Okay. He said, “Oh, yeah. Homemade burrito, who would resist?” I brought the burrito. Even I didn’t sell, I gave him secretly, and he taste. After that, he’s addicted to my burrito, and sometimes I didn’t work at the grocery store, he’s waiting for me to come down-

EL: For your burrito!

Maangchi: … from my apartment to get the one burrito. That guy was so funny, and then, eventually, he introduced to me. “Oh, I love your burrito. Probably your food is good.” So we live, lot of bachelors are living in my apartment. Let’s do some party, so you can bring your party, the ingredient money, I will pay you so you can bring all kinds of food. Let them taste first, and then they can order you so you can make a lot of money. I was so excited. Meanwhile, I got the job. Some English teacher, some Korean-

EL: Got it.

Maangchi: … Institute in Toronto, they contacted me. “Okay. You got the job.” I went there.

EL: You eventually got a job as a family counselor helping Koreans adjust to life in the West, but then you also developed another hobby besides food, which figures prominently in your story. You entered the world of interactive online computer games.

Maangchi: The Korean nonprofit organizations, mostly clients are Korean immigrants, and I got that job until, I was working there until I left there for America. Before that, all these thing happening, English teacher, and private tutoring, and blah, blah, blah. And I was playing game. So, the playing game online game. And then-

EL: Did you play games all night? You like one of these teenagers, only you were no longer a teenager, who’d just come home from work and just play video games?

Maangchi: When I lived in Korea, when my children playing game, I gave them hard time, “Hey. Study don’t do this playing game.” But-

EL: And then you’ve become one of them.

Maangchi: Yeah. And then, there was online game, monthly $20 I had to pay, and then, but we do this kind of game, that game, I learn a lot from the game, by the way. This game, you should not look down on that kind of game. Really fun. Number one, you can spend your time, instead of killing time and watching television, and you have to think, think, think. Your brain is going to be increase.

EL: That’s really funny. But you really got into it. And you decided you needed an online persona.

Maangchi: Yeah. Isn’t it funny? Three years, I played game, and then, eventually, I’m the top level. Highest level-

EL: You’re a top-level gamer.

Maangchi: Gamer, and the top-level character is number 50. Level 50. I had three. Three 50 levels. I even sent email to them, the game guys, “Please make there more than 50 levels, it’s boring.”

EL: I’m bored by your 50-level game.

Maangchi: Yeah. And then, my son was the computer student, he asked me, “Mom, have you ever heard of YouTube?” “Oh, yes.” And he said, “Why don’t you share your recipes?” My son thinks that I’m the best cook in the world.

EL: But, by that time, you had already adopted the name Maangchi, right?

Maangchi: One of the character name. The characters, the online game. I had three characters. One is Maangchi. At the time, I was playing that character. Before, they’re kind of a gangster spouse. Tumo in Korean. Tumo. Everybody American guys call me, “Tumo! Tumo!” We are also playing game, plus chatting together. When they chat, they call me Tumo, and I thought, “Ugh.” And also, some kind of double sword, some kind of name, unique name I made, but, Maangchi. So, when I make the YouTube account, I don’t know. I don’t know what to make the name. It has to be unique. So, “Okay, I’m playing Maangchi, so, okay, Maangchi.” And then, I started in the 2007.

EL: Yeah, but, Maangchi, you wrote that, “My character was a tough, sexy fighter with purple hair and a big hammer. I led the team to battle and knocked the biggest enemies down.”

Maangchi: Yeah. Yeah. And my character, even I told you, three number 50 level, I never choose the game kind of defense.

EL: Got it.

Maangchi: You can play role play, and you can defend, or you can using some, what is it, some other, all kinds of stuff. But I always attacking in the front. And then I feel so good. One of my friends, online game friends, he asked me, “Maangchi, next time, why don’t you be a big defender?” I said I would never be a defender.

EL: And what does Maangchi mean?

Maangchi: Maangchi’s hammer in Korean.

EL: Hammer. So, you were the hammer.

Maangchi: Yeah.

EL: You don’t strike me as the hammer type. So, yeah, your son suggests, “Oh, mom, you’re a really good cook. You should put some cooking videos up on YouTube.”

Maangchi: Yeah.

EL: And you started in 2007.

Maangchi: Yeah, yeah.

EL: And I watched the first one. The Morrissey soundtrack’s not mixed all that well.

Maangchi: I don’t make any money from that video, because I use the Morrissey music. Copyright. I have a bunch of rules.

EL: But you didn’t know about copyright.

Maangchi: I don’t know.

EL: Everyone was violating copyright in 2007.

Maangchi: I didn’t know it. Even also, I didn’t know I would be popular someday. I’m one of millions of people. Just make it fun. Okay. I love Morrissey music. I just add in a bunch of, all these videos. I don’t make money at all, no, but it’s okay.

EL: Yeah. And did you ever think, in your wildest dreams, that you would actually make money from this?

Maangchi: Never. And I never be interested in making money from this. This is hobby. Totally my hobby. But it’s like, one by one, my recipe, thanks to YouTube, I’m very loyal to YouTube, because, I will never be against to YouTube. Because of YouTube, I just could share all my recipe all around the world.

EL: And it took over your life.

Maangchi: Exactly.

EL: In the best possible way.

Maangchi: Yeah, exactly. I never thought to that I would be popular. I would never think that I would make money from this. But this is my hobby. Good hobby. And, by time goes by, my recipe video is going to be just like the encyclopedia for myself. It’ll be good when I get older. Okay. How many cups? I use this. And then I can go back to my own, the things and then I can find easily.

EL: You’re living the Korean-American dream.

Maangchi: Thank you so much.

EL: We have to leave it right here for this episode, but I still have a lot of questions for you. Maangchi, thank you so much for being on Special Sauce.

Maangchi: Thank you so much, and nice meeting you.

EL: Nice to meet you. And now it’s time to head over to the Serious Eats test kitchen, where our pastry wizard, Stella Parks, author of BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts, will lead us through the creation of a killer confection. Details of Stella Parks’ recipe are at seriouseats.com.

Stella Parks: No-bake cookies are a thing that a lot of people make, their grandmothers make, their family make, a holiday classic, but they’re a little notorious in that sometimes they don’t set up, and sometimes are too dry and crumbly, and who knows what’s going on. I have a secret to share with you about no-bake cookies. It’s just fudge. It’s ingredients in a pot, cooked to a specific temperature, cooled, and stirred. That’s really not a big deal, I promise. If you’ve got a digital thermometer, especially one that clips onto the side of the pot, you can know with 100% certainty what temperature your fudge is being cooked to for no-bake cookies. And that means you’ll have success every time. Let’s go. First ingredient: sugar. I’m using toasted sugar. It’s really great in any kind of candy that can sometimes be borderline a little too sweet, just because it adds some complexity of flavor and a little bit of that caramel-y “oomph”. White sugar is fine, or toasted sugar if you have it. A little bit of milk, Dutch cocoa powder, and a little bit of salt. Salt is a powerhouse ingredient here, because it is what brings out the flavor of the chocolate, so, little bit of salt. Turn the heat up and bring this to a boil.

I’m going to whisk, just to bring it all together and make sure all the lumps of sugar disappear. Then just let it go until it comes to a boil. While this coming to a boil, I’m going to set the alarm on my thermometer. The cool thing about leave-in thermometers like this, this is what you would use to temp, roast turkey or chicken, or something that’s in the oven. It’s got a long cord. You can use it for bread, other things like that. I love to use it for candy-making, because I don’t want a single-use thermometer, candy thermometer. I literally don’t have a candy thermometer. This is the only kind of thermometer I have. I’m going to set this temperature alert. The recipe is going to cook to 230 degrees, so I’m going to set the temperature alert two degrees below that, and that means, when it comes time for me to cook this, I don’t have to watch it like a hawk. I can check my phone, I can get on Twitter, I can hang out with you guys. It will let me know when it comes to temperature. Your handheld thermometer can’t do that.

Oh, look! That means I’m almost there. Two degrees to go. I’ll get off Twitter, start paying attention to what I’m doing. Okay. It’s hit 230. Shutting off the heat, removing my thermometer. Next up, going to add a bit of melted dark chocolate. I like the combination of chocolate and cocoa powder together in the cookies. I think it gives a little bit stronger of a chocolate flavor. Creamy peanut butter. This is definitely a time for commercial peanut butter. You want smooth, creamy, creamy peanut butter. Natural styles may be more inclined to break, the emulsion won’t hold in the high heat. And a big splash of vanilla. Once all the peanut butter and chocolate looks like it’s mixed in pretty evenly, we’re going to add some instant oats and some old-fashioned oats. When I was testing, I did some batches with all instant, some batches with all old-fashioned, and then I did a batch with a little bit of both, and that was my favorite in the end.

The instant oats dissolve a little bit better and create a more traditional cookie structure, but the old-fashioned oats retain a little bit of a nibby characteristic that reminds me of a heartier kind of oatmeal cookie. I’m going to keep stirring until this starts to thicken. This is a little bit like that stage when people make fudge in a fudge shop, and they’ve got it on the marble slab, and they’re scraping and stirring it, only we’re just stirring it. It’s starting to thicken up a little bit, so I’m going to bring my baking sheet a little closer. Grab a pair of spoons, start scooping. Be careful. You don’t want to burn yourself. This stuff is ridiculously hot. It’s 230 degrees. This looks like a delicious, gooey mixture of chocolate you just want to stick your finger into and, mm, taste it, but it’s too hot. Don’t do it. The no-bake cookies need to cool until they’re room temperature. Up until that point, their texture is going to continue to be evolving. You might taste one 30 minutes after you make it, when they’re stole a little bit warm, and you might think to yourself, “This isn’t the texture I was expecting,” because it hasn’t cooled yet. Just let it keep going. Oh, yeah, soft, chewy. Oh, no, these are good. I’m good at my job. Pretty proud of myself.

EL: Again, details of Stella Parks’ recipe are at seriouseats.com. More from our test kitchen next time. That’s it for today. Next week on Special Sauce, Kenji will be back to answer, with his usual scientific precision, your culinary question of the week. Do send in those questions to specialsauce@seriouseats.com. All this and a special guest on next week’s Special Sauce. So long, serious eaters. See you next time.