Niki Nakayama
Niki Nakayama

Niki Nakayama

Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink Japan’s tradition of kaiseki cuisine is many things: exacting, beautiful, intensely seasonal, ritualistically structured—and rarely if ever welcoming to women chefs. That hasn’t stopped Los Angeles-based Niki Nakayama, who initially gained acclaim as a sushi chef (a world resistant to women in itself), and whose third restaurant is the wildly praised, kaiseki-focused n/naka (well documented on season 1 of Chef’s Table on Netflix). Twenty years of training—several at Japan’s renowned Shirakawa-ya Ryokan—and planning went into n/naka, somehing that clearly shows in the exquisite thirteen-course meals Nakayama serves there. Driven by what she grows in her own garden (cultivated together with the urban-farming group Farmscape) and what she sources from local foragers, Nakayama’s ever-changing menus take kaiseki’s rigorous traditions seriously, but also bring her own interpretation of its sensibilities to the table as well. That might mean something as simple as using locally grown black mustard flowers as a stand-in for wasabi, or as complex as an exotic, aromatic dish of delicate spaghettini with black abalone, pickled cod roe, and summer truffles; but no matter what, on every plate Nakayama's work is extraordinary.
Matsutake Rice
Rating: Unrated
New!
Koshihikari rice is exceptionally flavorful, tender, and just lightly sticky. Mushrooms bring the right balance of umami, without overwhelming the flavor of the rice itself.
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Steamed Whitefish Yamakake
Rating: Unrated
New!
An intensely concentrated broth pairs with delicate white fish and rich shiitake mushrooms.  Gently steaming the fish gives it light and flaky texture. The citrus zest added just before serving brightens the whole dish.
Niki Nakayama and Carole Iida-Nakayama give tender, marbled grilled Wagyu a hit of savory, lightly sweet flavor from the roasted fig miso sauce. Use leftover sauce to slather on ribs before grilling. If fresh figs are not available, use frozen figs rather than dried. Just make sure to thaw them beforehand for the best texture.