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Niki Nakayama

A Chef's Tale in 13 Bites



Farrar, Straus and Giroux

(pub.9.14.2021) 40 pages

Author: Jamie Michalak

& Debbi Michiko Florence

Illustrator: Yuko Jones

Character: Niki Nakayama

Overview: "As a child and adult, Niki faced many naysayers in her pursuit of haute cuisine. Using the structure of a traditional kaiseki meal, the authors Debbi Michiko Florence and Jamie Michalak playfully detail Niki's hunger for success in thirteen "bites" ― from wonton wrappers she used to make pizza as a kid to yuzu-tomatillo sauce in her own upscale Los Angeles Michelin-starred restaurant, n/naka.

To anyone who tells her a woman can't be a master chef, Niki lets her food do the talking. And oh, does it talk. Niki was featured on the first season of ... Chef's Table." Tantalizing taste:

"Next, she wanted to study kaiseki. Niki followed her heart back to Japan, back to her cousins' inn.

Bite 9

But as far as she knew, female kaiseki chefs didn't exist. In Japan, recipes and cooking techniques were handed down from fathers to sons, male mentors to male apprentices.

'You can't,' people told her.

I can, Niki thought.

She tended the garden. She saw snow for the first time. And she discovered how to tell nature's stories through her cooking.'

For three years, Niki watched. Niki learned."

And something more: The Kaiseki section at the back of the book explains: "Kaiseki was first served in sixteenth-century Japan at monastery tea ceremones. It began as a simple vegetarian meal. Over the centuries, it evolved into a feast of many courses, presented in a certain order for a variety of tastes and textures...

Now Chef Niki makes what she calls 'modern kaiseki,' taking the traditional Japanese culinary art form and interpreting it in her own way... Chef Niki loves that kaiseki is about more than just feeding people. At n/naka, she thanks each of her guests personally. 'Kaiseki is about bringing people together,' she says, 'and making people happy through food.'"


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