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8 Success Lessons I Learned from Niki Nakayama - Chef's Table
September 19, 2016
Niki Nakayama (Chef and owner of n/naka restaurant in Los Angeles, California US. One of the World's Only Female Masters of Traditional Japanese Cuisine.)
Being a woman in the typically male-dominated world of high-end cuisine is usually difficult enough, but being a female chef in the predominantly male world of Japanese cooking gave her an additional set of obstacles, requiring her to constantly prove her abilities as a chef.
Here are the 8 success lessons I learned from Chef Nakayama's story:
1. Never let your gender, race, ethnicity or circumstance stop you from chasing your dreams.
Backstory: "When people see me, they don't generally identify that I am the chef. They don't think that I fit that mold of a chef. The automatic assumption is that I don't know what I am doing." said Niki. "In Japanese, there's this word called 'Kuyashii,' which is when somebody puts you down or says you cannot do something, and you have this burning desire to prove them wrong. Earlier in this career, I felt a lot of motivation from that. Having been in a kitchen where it was all men, I had to prove myself in order to be considered equal to their work."
2. The gravity of hard work
Backstory: I (Niki) always believed, growing up, that I'm supposed to pay my dues. In order to get anywhere in life, I have to work hard at it. And I thought, "Okay, I am going to have to work really hard to make something happen."
3. The significance of grit (passion and perseverance)
Backstory: My (Niki's) brother, who had tried to open a restaurant with a couple of his friends, was not supportive. He made sure to tell me that they could only help me so much, and should I not be able to be successful from that point on, that I would have to let it go, and then came that feeling of kuyashii, that , "Oh, I'm going to prove it to you that I can get this done." and the whole motivating factor was, "I cannot fail." Niki said. "The first two or three years, business was really hard, and I thought, "It's okay. I am going to survive this."
4. Humility breeds success -- Most successful leaders understand that a sense of humility is essential to winning hearts and minds.
Backstory: Evan Kleiman, Host, NPR's Good Food, had this to say about Niki, "Niki is a beautiful example of that lack of ego made it take a little longer for people to notice what was going on in that little corner. There's been this whole conversation about women in the kitchen and about how they get short shrift from the media. And it's true, they do. But she blows your mind as much as any super-dude, tatted-up chef."
"We have had an extremely long relationship with Niki. I didn't think too much of her initially, I just thought she was another Japanese woman. Then, all of a sudden, she started getting more and more popular. Here in LA, I think the foodie scene is right up there with the showbiz. But she is down to earth and she's real." said Jack Mayekawa, the store owner where Niki shops regularly for her restaurant.
5. Never stop learning -- Learning is an essential ingredient of any successful business. The ability to be open to change and to continue to try and improve oneself and one’s business is crucial to success.
Backstory: "The best advice that I've been given was to never stop learning. Because the moment you give up and think you know everything, you are already done as a chef. You should just quit." Niki talked about her philosophy of personal growth and self-improvement.
6. The courage to go beyond the limit
Backstory: Niki walked away from her first successful restaurant and started over from scratch. "I didn't like being another restaurant that was putting out the same food for everybody, and not having that passionate feeling for creating dishes that I enjoy. It was more of trying to go with the flow, adjusting and accommodating and figuring out what it was that people wanted.", explained Niki. "It was so much more technical than it was creative. It felt very limiting. And that was when I knew it was time to let it go."
7. The virtue of authenticity -- Being your true, authentic self at every opportunity helps you become a better entrepreneur, leader, and human.
Backstory: "My food is very expressive of who I am. When I am cooking, I'd put as much heart into it as I can. It translates to people who eat the food, and they can sense who I am when they eat the food."
8. Real success in life is achieving the goals that matter to you the most
Backstory: "Earlier in my career, the motivation was that feeling that I have to prove myself. But at this point, the whole feeling for cooking has shifted into something different, I am enjoying this work more for myself without thinking about pleasing people. Everything that is happening to me now is something that I've always dreamed of. " exclaimed Niki.
Maria Fontoura, The Wall Street Journal's food writer, commented, "At this point, she's not trying to prove anything. She's carving her own path!"
"Everything is done with: Focus, Heart, Gratitude, Love, Care, Purpose, Intention, and Faith" ~ N/Naka