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Meet Niki and Carole Iida Nakayama of n/naka in Palms (Culver City)

Today we’d like to introduce you to Niki and Carole Iida Nakayama.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Niki and Carole. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Niki: I initially wanted to be a musician, but then realized I probably couldn’t make a living, so I decided to go to culinary school. After that, I worked at Takao restaurant in Brentwood, and then went to Japan to hone my skills and really immerse myself in the culture. Once I returned, I opened Azami Sushi Cafe on Melrose, and when I started doing the kaiseki menu there, I realized that was what I wanted to do since it allowed room for seasonal and even personal expression in a way that sushi did not. Once I found the building that is now n/naka, I held onto it for about a year before finally making the leap and opening.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Niki: I don’t think any road that leads to any level of satisfaction and/or success is a smooth one, and mine has certainly has had bumps in it but they’ve all been valuable in terms of learning from them and gaining new insights from each experience. While not exclusive to me and Carole, the “female kaiseki chef” idea is something that gets pushback, because the tradition in Japan is that it’s really solely male chefs. Especially at the beginning, some people need for you to prove yourself before they can accept something that is new or different to them. Men likely do not face the same challenge. But again, a journey without pitfalls isn’t one that will garner a lot of wisdom because the hardships are what we learn from most.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about n/naka – what should we know?
Carole: n/naka specializes in kaiseki cuisine that that integrates California into the template of traditional kaiseki cuisine, making it truly unique. We always say it’s a kaiseki restaurant that could only exist in Los Angeles because one of the pillars of kaiseki is to pay tribute to what is around you. So what is on the plate is a reflection of our Japanese and American heritage and our upbringing in Southern California.

Niki: We are most proud of our team, and being able to create a positive and nurturing work environment in which everyone is encouraged to learn and grow. The majority of our kitchen team are women which is another source of pride for Carole and me, and we all work together to be a family. We do challenge our team which is part of the learning process, but we always aim to do it with patience and kindness.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Niki: Gratitude. For the abundance with which we get to cook, our team who play such an integral role, the privilege of cooking for people, and any happiness we can offer our guests through the experience of dining at n/naka.

Carole: I agree, gratitude comes first. The opportunity to do what we do and provide a personal experience for our guests each night with our team are things for which we are incredibly thankful.

Pricing:

  • n/naka Bento with Sushi – $38
  • n/naka Kaiseki Jūbako – $85

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Zen Sekizawa

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