In the eighties, her father, a chef with a sushi counter in Arcadia, opened a second restaurant, in the spot that Matsuhisa now occupies. She speaks warily about culinary celebrity. “To be able to run your own kaiseki restaurant, you have to be trained in kaiseki restaurants for years and years,” Naoko Takei Moore, a cookbook author and Japanese food expert, told me. Kaiseki is not a specific dish or technique but a format, often involving a dozen or more tiny courses. A look at chef Niki Nakayama and her Los Angeles restaurant n/naka. Chef Niki Nakayama – photograph Zen Sekizawa Chef Niki Nakayama. The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Condé Nast. I don’t see the difference.”, From the back seat, Iida added, “I wonder if people would use the word ‘feminine’ if perhaps you looked different, too. Japanese cuisine, at the high end, is virtually all made by men. Even when her relationship with Iida became serious, Nakayama avoided coming out to her mother. ‘Top Chef’ recap: ... And helping the judge this challenge will be Michelin-starred chefs Niki Nakayama and Carole Iidi-Nakayama, co-owners of the restaurant n/Naka. “The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it’s better that people can’t see me,” she said. N/naka is closed to diners on Tuesdays, when the staff prepares for the week’s service. In the early days of n/naka, Nakayama made the menu as Japanese as possible. In its exactitude and restraint, Bocuse saw an approach that was in many ways the very opposite of decadent French haute cuisine. And me being me, of course, in my mind there was a mental middle finger going up: ‘Don’t come back.’ But I carried that feeling with me: ‘This is why people don’t take me seriously—because I’m a woman.’ ”. Chef Niki Nakayama and her sous chef Carole Iida are not bound by tradition. Always one to follow her intuition, Nakayama’s instincts guide her path as a chef, and it continues to be the driving force behind every dish she creates. As the staggered meals of n/naka’s first round of seating drew to an end, the noren curtains between the dining room and the kitchen flipped and waved with the chef’s near-constant passage. Returning to Lyon, he drew upon the principles of kaiseki as he pioneered what became known as nouvelle cuisine, a modern reimagining of French cooking that emphasized seasonality, the quality of ingredients, and a dramatic procession of plates composed with painterly flair. Chef Niki Nakayama was committed to adapting the very best of what grows in the Californian sun to fit the centuries-old rituals of kaiseki. The Chef's Library: 4 Cookbook Picks From n/naka's Niki Nakayama Besha Rodell May 14, 2013 The Chef's Library is a series in which we ask … Kaiseki relies on the notion of shun, the moment when an ingredient is at its best. Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, she began her career at the renowned Takao restaurant in Brentwood, working under the guidance of esteemed chefs Takao Izumida and Morihiro Onodera. Nakayama regularly receives gifts and letters from people pleading for seats. The most prominent American kaiseki restaurant is n/naka, a small Los Angeles establishment owned and run by the forty-four-year-old Japanese-American chef Niki Nakayama.Japanese cuisine, at … Almost all of them serve aesthetic or gastronomic ends, though to a nonexpert they can seem ludicrously fussy. As she and Iida drove me back to my hotel after dinner, they discussed their friend Dominique Crenn, the acclaimed San Francisco chef, who last year became the first woman in America to earn the maximum three Michelin stars for her restaurant, Atelier Crenn. With Niki Nakayama. When I met Nakayama, she told me that, in kaiseki, “the ingredients are more important than you, the cooking is more important than you. n/naka even has its own vegetable and herb garden. Like many ryokan, this one served its guests exquisite kaiseki meals. Niki Nakayama does not want to talk about being a female chef. The evening after my meal at n/naka, I joined Nakayama and Iida for dinner at the Beverly Hills restaurant Matsuhisa, where, three decades ago, Nobu Matsuhisa became a sushi superstar. As the owner, head chef, and mastermind behind her restaurant n/naka, Chef Niki Nakayama serves up coveted kaiseki dinners, a structured multi-course meal that emphasizes seasonality and extreme technical prowess.Niki truly straddles the line of tradition and innovation, sourcing local ingredients and employing centuries-old techniques. Let’s say she didn’t look like a small Asian woman, but instead was, like, a six-foot-tall, two-hundred-pound Nordic woman. It is the only dish that never leaves n/naka’s menu. Interview taken January, 2018. Nakayama compared her creative process to playing a game like Candy Crush—each new menu increasing in difficulty and complexity, in a never-ending competition against herself. In a patch of earth outside the restaurant’s street-facing window, she tried to plant an ornamental Japanese garden for diners to gaze at during their three-hour meals. Niki Nakayama: Always Be My Maybe. Yubako Kamohara, the head chef of Tsurutokame, a women-run kaiseki restaurant in Tokyo that opened four years after n/naka, told me, through a translator, that the industry is unwilling “to accommodate women’s needs.”, Even in Japan, you’re far more likely to see a non-Japanese man behind the sushi counter than a Japanese woman. The dots and squiggles of nouvelle cuisine have faded from fashion, but nearly every contemporary restaurant’s tasting menu owes its structure to Bocuse’s dégustation, which in turn owes its identity to Japanese kaiseki. Episode from acclaimed series Chef's Table introducing Niki Nakayama. She is five feet one and slender, with long dark hair that she ties back in a ponytail at the collar of her white chef’s jacket. Soon Iida, who is also a cook, closed her sushi restaurant to become the sous-chef at n/naka. (The word “omakase” means “I trust you.”) Kaiseki, by contrast, has a predetermined flow, its interrelated courses incorporating dozens—if not hundreds—of ingredients and techniques to form a single narrative arc. Some kaiseki chefs divide the year not into quarters but into seventy-two micro-seasons. “Being here is a little bit tricky for me,” Iida said, as the three of us sat at Matsuhisa’s twenty-foot-long sushi bar, adding, “I’ve never witnessed the place that caused those problems.” Her father stubbornly stuck it out for years; eventually, he sold his lease to Matsuhisa, and Iida’s parents divorced. Nakayama’s original blueprints for n/naka called for an open counter between the kitchen and the dining room, as in many Japanese restaurants, where a few lucky diners could sit and be served, kappo style, directly from Nakayama’s hands. While working at Shirakawa-Ya Ryokan, Niki trained under chef Masa Sato in the art of kaiseki the traditional Japanese culinary practice that emphasizes the balance and seasonality of a dish. In kanji, there are two ways of writing “kaiseki,” to refer to these different strains. Pieces of sashimi should be served in odd numbers. 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