Chef Niki Nakayama

For Niki Nakayama, the art of cooking all comes down to feeling. 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. At n/naka, her highly acclaimed restaurant in West Los Angeles, Nakayama secures her place among the foremost chefs in the world of modern kaiseki—a traditional Japanese dining discipline based in gratitude and appreciation that balances taste, texture, and presentation through a progression of dishes served in a meticulous, thoughtfully curated order. For Nakayama, the kaiseki philosophy allows her to show a deep appreciation for the beauty of nature, with the purpose of, “highlighting natural flavors, presenting them in their purest way without over-complication, and serving them how they were meant to be in their peak season.”

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Nakayama began her career at the popular Takao restaurant in Brentwood, following her graduation from culinary school in nearby Pasadena. After embarking on a three-year working tour of Japan immersing herself in the deeply nuanced methods and flavors of both traditional and contemporary Japanese cuisine, including the art of traditional kaiseki, Nakayama returned to her hometown to open Azami Sushi Café on Melrose Avenue.

After eight years—during which she became known for her omakase menu—the chef branched out to host elaborate chef’s table dinners that resulted in Nakayama’s modernized kaiseki dining experience, which has become the signature cuisine of n/naka. As Nakayama describes, “I was ready to put my name on something, ready to take that leap and challenge myself—and ready to take the traditional kaiseki philosophy and make it my own.”

Today, n/naka serves as a global destination for modern kaiseki with a California twist, at which Nakayama serves world-class, artfully curated, and exquisite dishes in a progression designed to reflect the mood of season, time, and place. One of the toughest reservations to get in L.A., n/naka’s books typically fill up three months out, a testament to Nakayama’s resonance in the international culinary world. Critics also take note—the restaurant has appeared on Jonathan Gold’s “101 Best Restaurants” every year since opening in 2013, and continues to catch the attention of media including T Magazine (The New York Times), Eater, Vogue.com, and many more.

Nakayama’s devotion to sustainability also plays out at n/naka, with currently 70% of its ingredients sourced locally—a rarity in Japanese fine dining. At 2017’s Food on Edge symposium in Galway, Ireland, she explained how the pillars of kaiseki, to integrate your surroundings into the cuisine, find harmony with these sustainability initiatives.

Outside of the restaurant, the chef can be found at her Los Angeles home spending time with her wife and their three dogs—a golden retriever, a Chihuahua, and a terrier mix. One of her favorite pastimes, playing guitar, “allows for decompression,” she says, when she steps away from the kitchen.

3 words to describe Nature? 

GIVING. VAST. BEAUTIFUL

3 things Nature taught you? 

APPRECIATION

GRATITUDE

HUMILITY

3 most treasured Nature spots? 

ALL OCEANS, MOUNTAINS, FORESTS

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…? 

ALIVE AND SMALL

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…? 

PEACE

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…? 

WONDER

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…? 

LOVE

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…? 

SCARED

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…? 

WONDER

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person? 

OCEAN

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being? 

10

Share with us a childhood nature memory? 

THE FIRST TIME I EVER PLAYED IN THE SNOW AT BIG BEAR, I THOUGHT I’D FOUND MAGIC POWDER. EVERY TIME I SEE SNOW, IT REMINDS ME OF HAPPINESS AND HOLIDAYS.


Jacqueline Raposo

Jacqueline Raposo has written over three-hundred interview-focused features articles for major food publications. Her stories center around the culture of food – how eating connects and disconnects us – as well as the challenges facing those in the hospitality industry today. She also pens essays on functioning in a busy world as an adult with lifelong chronic illness. Her first bookThe Me, Without: A Year Exploring Habit, Healing, and Happiness – publishes in January.

Jacqueline finds humans fascinating, and believes everyone has a story to share. She walked barefoot in the New England woods often as a child of the early nineties, got Lyme disease, and lives with complications to this day. Jacqueline still goes camping, identifies trees and birds, and takes her dog (who’s had Lyme, too) out in the grass any chance she gets. She can’t go far, but she goes deep.

3 words to describe Nature?

Detoxifying. Fortifying. Unanswerable.

3 things Nature taught you?

Talk less, listen more.

Pay attention – a hawk can kill a junco in two seconds flat – don’t miss the moment.

Nothing I create will ever be as beautiful as a walk with my dog during a snowstorm.

3 most treasured Nature spots?

Overlooking the Atlantic from Sao Miguel in the Azores, where my father is from.

The honey locust, tree of heaven, and plants deskside on my windowsill in New York.

Any forest in New England I can go into with my best friend, Lyndsey.

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel...?

Small and powerless and insignificant and humble. In the best possible way.

When you see a forest, it makes you feel...?

Ready for a very slow walk to make up stories, identify things, and whisper quietly so to not wake sleeping trolls.

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel...?

Like an upward adventure is about to happen.

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel...?

Like I can almost see the ghosts of all those who have stood in that same spot before me, equally in awe.

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel...?

Like I should stop what I’m doing and observe the sky, so I’ll know how it’s changed later.

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…?

Like it’s time to get out a notebook and fountain pen.

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

Forest. I’m never more at home then when with the trees, nestled alongside water. If I can be in water surrounded by trees, even better. Hot springs? Never leaving.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

10. I live in a city, yet surround myself with Nature. I find it everywhere. I cannot live without it.

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

My favorite books in childhood were those about running away to live in the woods: The Boxcar Children, My Side of the Mountain, etc. I succeeded only in decorating an empty shed with plates made from broken floor tiles, building a fire pit in the woods behind our property and, eventually, trying to heal my dad’s poison ivy with a soak made from ferns. It was something.


Chef Nyesha J. Arrington

A former apprentice of legendary French Chef Joel Robuchon, Nyesha is celebrated for her advocacy of using farm fresh, locally, and responsibly sourced ingredients.

In 2012, she was recognized by Zagat.com as one of the 30 Under 30 - LA's Hottest Up-And-Comers as well as Where LA's top talent under30. She was also profiled in LA Weekly's People issue as one of the most 69 interesting people to watch in 2012. In 2013 she won the cooking competition show Knife Fight on Esquire Network and later returned to Knight Fight in 2014 as a Guest Chef Judge. In 2015, Nyesha crafted the creative cooking vision behind Progressive California Cuisine at LEONA, in the heart of Venice, CA. During her tenure with LEONA, GQ Magazine named Arrington’s Hibiscus-Cured Yellowtail dish “ Most Sexy of 2016 ”, and Nyesha was also awarded the title of " Chef of the Year " - EATER LA. In 2016 Chef Arrington was awarded “Top 10 Dish of Los Angeles 2016” - Jonathan Gold .

Currently, Nyesha continues to innovate by drawing inspiration from her diverse cultural background and French-technique while maintaining her mission to spread the message of love through food using every plate as a new canvas of creation.

3 words to describe Nature?

Life, Inspiration, Seasonal

3 things Nature taught you?

Respect, Culture, Lifecycle

3 most treasured Nature spots?

1 Vasquez rocks

2 Poppy fields antelope valley

3 Monkey canyon ( hidden waterfall)

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel...? 

Zen

When you see a forest, it makes you feel...?

Rooted

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel...?

Respect

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel...?

At peace

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel...?

Vulnerable

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel...?

Like a pilar

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

Ocean for sure!

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

10

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

Fishing with my Dad is one my my favorite childhood memories. I remember going out to lakes and catching my first fish made me feel powerful. I'll never forget the respect for life I learned those days.