Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, chef Niki Nakayama began her career at the renowned Takao restaurant in Brentwood, working under the guidance of esteemed chefs Takao Izumida and Morihiro Onodera. Committed to exploring new techniques, Niki embarked on a three-year working tour throughout Japan, sampling her way through different regional flavors and immersing herself in the essentials of Japanese cuisine, both traditional and cutting-edge. While working at Shirakawa-Ya Ryokan, (Japanese inn owned by relatives) Niki trained under chef Masa Sato in the art of kaiseki the traditional Japanese culinary practice that emphasizes the balance and seasonality of a dish.
Upon her return to Los Angeles, Niki opened her first restaurant - Azami Sushi Cafe, which quickly became known for Niki's popular omakase menu. Azami was an immediate LA staple, touted by Zagat and the Los Angeles Times in addition to earning Citysearch's "Best of Sushi" distinction in 2006.
Inaka, Niki's ambitious second venture, functioned as a gourmet Japanese take-out by day and an intimate eight-course chef's table by night. Focusing on tasting menus allowed Niki to do what she enjoys - and thrives in - most: creating a thoughtful and cohesive series of dishes that provides a personal experience for each diner.
n/naka has been ten years in the making and is the expansion of Niki's previous endeavors, applying the artistic and technical notions of kaiseki to create an ever-evolving seasonal narrative within each meal.
Sous chef Carole Iida-Nakayama's parents immigrated to California from Japan and opened the restaurant Mako Sushi. Her childhood was spent washing dishes and being around Japanese food. She graduated from UCLA and never thought she would end up following in her parents' footsteps. But after several years as a project manager for various corporations, she knew she was destined to do something more meaningful with her life. The opportunity to work alongside her parents again at a new restaurant presented itself, so she took a leap of faith and the rest is history
In August 2012, Carole joined the n/naka team. Her goal at n/naka is to execute Niki's vision into an emotionally moving dining experience for the guests and to be Niki's pillar of support. Her innovations at n/naka have profoundly changed the way the kitchen runs and how the food appears for the guests. Carole hopes to continue growing as a chef and as a human being and to always cook with heart. She dreams of adding an herb garden to the restaurant, converting the space into a complete eco-friendly building, helping the community through cooking and maybe even earning a couple of Michelin stars along the way.
Chef Leslie Bilderback attended the professional chef program at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, graduating with honors in 1988. She completed her apprenticeship under internationally renowned pastry chef Bo Friberg.
As a pastry chef, Leslie played a major role in several of California's most well-regarded and innovative restaurants, including Sedona in Berkeley, Postrio and Zolas in San Francisco, and Angeli and Georgia in Los Angeles. In 1995 she joined the original faculty of the California School of Culinary Arts (currently Le Cordon Blue College of Culinary Arts Los Angeles), and after several years as Baking and Pastries Department Head, she became Executive Chef, leading the school into partnership with Le Cordon Bleu. In 1999, she became a Certified Master Baker, and in 2002, she was a finalist on Team USA of the Coup du Monde de la Boulangerie.
It was at the CSCA where Leslie met a young student named Niki Nakayama. Years later, teacher and student are now contemporaries after Niki asked her former mentor to help with the n/naka pastry program. It was a natural fit. Leslie brings her whimsical creativity and technical mastery while focusing on how well a dish plays to the palate. Her light touch with ingredients is the perfect complement to the kaiseki style.
Leslie has published numerous books and teaches nutrition to kids throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District on behalf of the USDA's Nutrition Network, and travels extensively with the United States Navy training CS's in the finer points of culinary arts. Learn more about Leslie at CulinaryMasterclass.com, her website devoted to developing culinary skills with fresh, seasonal recipes.
General Manager Jeffry Undiarto feels extremely privileged to have received his culinary education directly from the great chefs including Niki Nakayama.
Hailing from Bali, Indonesia where is family is in the restaurant business, Jeffry got his start in California at Hakata as a server and soon after was given a sushi chef apprenticeship. Following the apprenticeship, he worked at the Drago Restaurant Group, Sushi House Unico in Bel Air and Yojisan in Beverly Hills. At Yojisan, he trained under his mentor Yoji Tajima. In February 2013, he joined n/naka.
Jeffry believes that food can be incredibly transcendent when it is made with passion. He identified this same belief in chef Niki. A relentless pursuer of perfection, he has continued to master the art of hospitality under her leadership. She and sous chef Carole have encouraged him to follow his dreams which he finds rare in most bosses.
He loves the rush, the art, the pressure of great service. Every night, he has fun working with his n/naka family and has a great time with the amazing guests.