Photography by Ryan Pfluger at N/Naka, Los Angeles, on September 30, 2015. Hair and Makeup: Kerrie Urban at Exclusive Artists Management.
“I hope that by being an out, queer Japanese-American woman in a traditionally male-dominated field, I can influence people to recognize I’m simply a chef and that none of those other labels matters,” says Niki Nakayama. Kaiseki, the style of Japanese food she serves at her small Los Angeles restaurant, N/Naka, is as rarefied as her achievements. Inspired by the ancient, formal multi-course tradition, she’s made the meal into an art form, and her work and life are intimately bound in many ways: Her sous-chef, Carole Iida, for example, is also her wife. The couple married this year in Hawaii. “I never imagined the day would come that my mother would be walking me down the aisle, fully supporting my marriage to a woman,” she says. “I have had many happy and amazing moments in my life, but marrying my true love and soul mate was by far the happiest day of my life.”