Niki Nakayama: A story about a positive mindset and determination to succeed
❔Are women underestimated in their work?
❔How frequently a woman’s job was considered “less important” just because?
The story of Chef Niki Nakayama is a story of success, resilience, passion, and leadership.
Chef's Table is a Netflix documentary about chefs, their personal experiences, and stories of success and failures. The fil rouge connecting almost every episode is that before becoming world-renowned Chefs, the protagonists of the series' episodes have gone through losses and the "I have accomplished nothing" moment. This teaches us a lot, and to say it poetically: the path into the light often seems dark at first. For Chef Niki Nakayama, it was even harder: being a woman and a Japanese Chef was not contemplated by society, not even by her family, who did not fully support her in her decision to become a chef.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Chef Niki Nakayama began her career at Takao restaurant in Brentwood, working under the guidance of Chefs Morihiro Onodera. In an interview, her mentor mentioned that when he first met Niki, he thought she was “cute” and “petite” and that she became more of a mascot for his restaurant rather than an equal. It took him a while to come to see her as another chef, and she proved it to him time and time again.
For Niki, being a woman in Japanese cuisine was a challenge and therefore felt like she had to prove herself for her voice to be heard. Niki mentioned a Japanese word, not translatable to English, that means something along the lines of 'when someone says you cannot do something, there is a fire that burns within you to prove them wrong'.
Chef Niki Nakayama is labeled the “female Japanese chef” rather than just a Japanese chef. Since females are not often portrayed as chefs in Japanese cuisine, she is labeled differently than others in her field. This does not make her cooking less important but marks it as something different.
In her restaurant, N/Nako, she decided to install a screen partition between her and the dining room so people do not know she is a woman.
The Chef mentioned that when some customers found out she was a woman, they told her it was “cute.” Even today, after winning two Michelin stars, her cuisine is still seen as childish or an attempt at something great than a dish that is just as good or better than what a man in her position could make. Most of the time, Chef Niki Nakayama is described based on her physical appearance. Costumers and food critics often mark how it is surprising that she can create such impressive dishes.
This story exemplifies how much your mindset, dedication, and resilience can drive success in life. Would you have given up by now?
Isn't it time to challenge these absurd biases and recognize talent independent of gender? In a world that constantly evolves, we should also check how we, as people with opinions, grow and develop our views.
We hope you enjoy the story of Chef Niki Nakayama as much as we did! Don't miss the episode about her on Netflix's Chef's Table!
Don't ever stop believing in yourself and your dreams!
With love and light,
Giulia, Femme Lead