Despite being one of Los Angeles’ most well-known and critically adored Japanese restaurants, n/naka owner and chef Niki Nakayama fervently maintains the passion and innovation behind the presentation of “modern kaiseki” – a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner and personalized menu that resulted in a Season 1 episode on Netflix’s Chef’s Table.
CSQ How have things changed since your appearance on Chef’s Table?
Niki Nakayama Being on Chef’s Table has been wonderful … people are more aware of what kaiseki is and have a better understanding of what we are trying to convey at n/naka. Professionally, this understanding brings a level of validity to our work … personally, the sense of connection we’ve established with viewers has been amazing.
CSQ Talk to us about when – and why – you began personalizing your menu for each customer. Why is this important to you?
NN The idea behind personalizing the experience sprouts from our menu, which is a tasting menu. I am already asking guests to somewhat give up by not having choice. I find the element of surprise keeps the meal fun. I want to offer that feeling to repeat guests.
CSQ Diversity, you could argue, has never been more important – across industry. With that in mind, talk about the adversity you faced rising to your position here and now.
NN I’ve been fortunate and achieved success in a male-dominated industry. The most noted obstacle I faced was simply not being taken seriously, whether it was a product of my gender or not looking like your prototypical chef. On the other hand, there have been many subtle obstacles that I’ve chosen not to interpret as the result of being a woman but rather the natural obstacles one faces in the workplace. Unless it’s very obvious, I feel it’s best not to attribute anything to my gender, making it less defeating.
CSQ What more can be done to inspire young women to follow in your footsteps and continue to break the “glass ceiling?”
NN My advice to women would be this: When facing adversity or a noted setback, use the difficult experience as fuel to reach your ultimate goal. Do everything in your power to take a negative and turn it into a positive … make the situation better by examining how that setback or roadblock can ultimately help you grow.