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 chef Takao Izumida. 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.
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.
Gemma Matsuyama possesses more than a decade’s worth of experience at fine-dining establishments and bakeries throughout the world. She brings that knowledge, creative drive, and the culinary traditions of her Japanese-Italian heritage into her position as pastry chef at n/naka.
Born in Chiba, Japan, Matsuyama soon moved with her family to Fort Lee, NJ. Not until her teenage years did Matsuyama take an interest in cooking. At the age of 16, Matsuyama enrolled in a four-year culinary program abroad at IPSSAR G. Marchitelli in the Abruzzo region of Italy, where she gained experience by working in the pastry department at an Italian bakery and as a savory cook in a farm-to-table restaurant.
Returning stateside in 2009 with new talents in tow, Matsuyama worked alongside influential baker and mentor Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. Thereafter, she moved on to Locanda Verde, an upscale Italian restaurant, at which she culled priceless wisdom from pastry chef Karen Demasco. Matsuyama then landed her most exciting role yet, as pastry sous chef for New York’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns—number 11 on “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” in 2017 and featured in season one of Netflix’s “Chef’s Table”—under the tutelage of visionary chef Dan Barber and mentorship of pastry chef Devin McDavid. She experimented with desserts made from unconventional ingredients, such as vegetables, whole grains, seeds, and fermented items.
When Matsuyama moved to Los Angeles in 2015, she served as a pastry cook at celebrated restaurants including Bestia and Ink. Her proudest moment came with the opening of her Pico House food truck, which featured market-driven whole grain bowls, and Heavy Cream, her wholesale pastry business. She closed both concepts in December of 2017 to take on her next journey, n/naka. Matsuyama’s creations emphasize seasonality and harmonize with the symphony of dishes that n/naka chefs and co-owners Niki Nakayama and Carole Iida-Nakayama design for their guests to ultimately evoke a memory that will carry on long after the last bite has been enjoyed.