The culture of Japanese food has led Chef Shota Nakajima to open Naka.
A Bellevue native, Shota ventured to his parents’ homeland at age 18 to immerse himself in Japanese cuisine. What resulted was more than simply learning recipes and techniques; it influenced his cooking and opened his eyes as to what a Japanese restaurant could be like in Seattle.
Landing in Osaka, Shota studied at the Tsuji Culinary Arts School. Following graduation, he apprenticed at the 20 seat Michelin star restaurant headed up by Chef Yasuhiko Sakamoto. He worked alongside eight other chefs, working with his chosen family nineteen hours a day. His cooking and restaurant philosophy foundation was formed.
Observing the restaurant chefs and what they did within the kitchen and among the guests, he learned the fine art of hospitality. Relegated to maîtres and servers in the United States, hospitality is an integral part of chefs’ duties in Japan. This departure is key to the Japanese seasonal cuisine style of Kaiseki, where there is a deliberate flow to the meal. Chefs take the time to personally calculate a guest’s service to ensure they leave satisfied.
Shota also honed his cooking techniques to obey the strict cooking perfectionism exemplified in Japanese cuisine.
He speaks of the procurement and handling of the finest ingredients as a precept at his Naka that, after his time in Japan, is now second nature to him. He speaks of arriving in the Japanese kitchen at 8 a.m. to prepare for a 5 p.m. dinner service. He recalls sorting through rice to eliminate all cracked pieces and organizing microgreens.
That experience helped him focus on organization and the relentless goal, passion and care it takes to have ultimate pride in the food he presents.
He left Japan knowing that he wanted to open a Kaiseki-style Japanese restaurant in the Seattle area.
While his Japanese immersion had taught him the commitment it takes on the cooking-side, he returned to Seattle and set upon learning the business-side of an American restaurant. Shota landed at Sushi Kappo Tamura, working under Chef Taichi Kitamura to accomplish that goal.
Now serving guests in the 48-seat Naka, Shota maintains the regional and seasonal focus he practiced in Osaka using Pacific Northwest ingredients. The Capitol Hill restaurant follows the Japanese balance of flavor, texture and presentation in its Kaiseki tasting menus in the dining room.
À la carte dishes, served in the bar, are a perfect match for Naka’s notable beverages including Japanese whiskies, sake and creative cocktails.
Shota has reached his goal, creating a Japanese cultural and culinary experience at Naka. Savor a bite of his heritage during the Seattle Wine and Food Experience on Sunday, February 21.