N/Naka, Niki Nakayama's restaurant

Niki Nakayama — Kuyashii. Chef’s Table, V.1 E.4

by | Chef's Table Guide, Series At The Stern | 1 comment

After that trainwreck of a last episode (in my eyes — read my sum-up here), I really enjoyed this episode, which featured Japanese-American chef Niki Nakayama.

I’ve titled the episode kuyashii, after a Japanese word referenced in the episode, which Niki explains as “a burning desire to prove someone wrong” when they say you can’t do something. In her case, her family — although supportive of her culinary ventures — in some ways believed that she would fail. So Niki set out on a mission to prove them wrong. 


Niki explains early in the episode that in her family’s culture, men are expected to succeed, and women are not expected to go far in their careers. 

Her brother, who is eleven years older than her, inherited the family fish business, while she set out to carve her own path. After working at distinguished Japanese restaurant Mori Sushi, she embarked on a three-year venture in Japan, where she learned the traditional kaiseki style.

Kaiseki is a type of course-style meal aimed at preserving the essence of each ingredient it presents. Traditional kaiseki is very formal and simple, not leaving much room for creativity.

Niki spent a few years running a sushi restaurant, before realizing she needed to let it go. She opened a new project, 

N/Naka, with the intention of creating something based on kaiseki, but all her own. 

Above: Several dishes created by Niki Nakayama at her Los Angeles restaurant N/Naka.

At first, Niki sought to prove herself. Now, she seeks to find her own way.

Niki’s story was touching. At N/Naka, she found success — and love. Her wife, Carole Iida, is her sous chef. They’re joining the lineup of dazzling duos in Chef’s Table. Just like most of the other dazzling duos, there’s a creative, spontaneous half — Niki — and an organized, solid half — Carole. 

The biggest issue Niki has run into in her career is the “woman” issue. Some people tell her she shouldn’t be able to cook the food she cooks because she’s a woman. Other people, when she gets a big piece in a magazine, tell her she’s only gotten it because she’s a woman. She never set out to make being a woman a major part of her work as a chef, but, as she says in the episode, it’s there.

Thanks for reading this sum-up on Niki Nakayama and N/Naka.

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