For Kyunghee Kim and her husband Leo Chen, who first met at Michigan State University in 2001 and later married in 2009, life together has included defying expectations, enduring challenges, and supporting each other when their dreams have taken unexpected turns. 

Photos of Kyunghee Kim and Leo Chen

Ypsilanti couple Kyunghee Kim and Leo Chen find and share photos from previous years of their relationship with each other. | Photo by One Detroit

Chen and Kim’s relationship has spurred them on in their individual and joint creative pursuits. Chen, initially on a path to becoming a physician’s assistant, found solace from the stress of classes in cooking. One Christmas, Kim asked if he ever thought about a career in culinary arts and possibly opening his own restaurant one day. 

Encouraged, he changed his career plans and pursued his passion for food — a passion connected to memories of his Taiwanese dad’s and grandma’s cooking. He gained experience in the culinary industry, becoming a line cook at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, interviewing at Chef Thomas Keller’s restaurant, Bouchon Bistro in California, and taking on the role of executive chef at a local Ann Arbor cafe in 2014. In 2016, he changed industries, starting in financial services.

Meanwhile, his passion for food endured, and a new dream emerged — opening a food pop-up showcasing Korean and Taiwanese cuisine. During the pandemic, he decided to make a go of it. In 2021, he started “Meogjiawhich means “let’s eat” in Korean. Since then, Chen has hosted pop-ups with fellow chefs in the Metro Detroit area, with menu items including Korean bolognese lasagna, Taiwanese 3-cup chicken meatball Italian subs, and gnocchi tteokbokki, reflecting a blend of his culinary influences.  

RELATED: Visit our AAPI News & Stories page to see more from our AAPI Stories Series

For Kim, her pivot from educator to writer came as a surprise. Grappling with challenges to grow their family, Kim turned to journaling, which led her to consider writing as another career path. Her first book, a collection of poems for children called “See Us Bloom,” was published in 2023. Chen and Kim continue to inspire and support each other’s creative pursuits, which now includes working on a podcast where they talk about topics important to them such as family and food. 

For One Detroit’s AAPI Stories Series, One Detroit’s Zosette Guir and Bill Kubota joined Kim and Chen at their Ypsilanti home where the couple talked about the resilience it took to pursue new career paths and the mutual support they received from each other. They also reflect on their immigrant experiences and evolving Asian American identities.

Part One: How we met

Kim and Chen share their first recollections of meeting each other and the challenges that generational expectations posed while they were dating.

Part Two: Coming to the United States

Kim and Chen talk about how different their experiences were coming to the United States.

Part Three: Life in the United States 

Kim talks about navigating life in the United States after immigrating to Michigan from South Korea with her family at eight years old. Chen reflects on the diverse families he grew up around when his family, originally from Taiwan, lived in Oklahoma. Plus, the two also reflect on memories of food and their relationship to their native languages.

Part Four: Passion for Food

Chen reflects with his wife Kyunghee Kim about the first time he met her parents, and how that inspired the name of his Korean and Taiwanese pop up, Meogjia, a phrase that means “let’s eat” in Korean.

Part Five: From educator to writer

Kim about how dealing with loss ultimately led her down the path to writing as a full time career, how she wrote her first book called “See Us Bloom,” a collection of poems for children, and the surprising reaction her mother had when she showed it to her for the first time. 

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