The Archetype Behind the Brand: Nakayama Does Battle

The Archetype Behind the Brand: Nakayama Does Battle

Credit: Niki Nakayama / N/Naka


Niki Nakayama is a fighter. A quiet, insistent fighter with a heart.

Before becoming the acclaimed chef she is today, the young American chef of Japanese descent battled cultural barriers which told her that no matter what she tried to do, she might never be as good as her brother, or live up to the expectations of her father.

And as if battling your own family for the right to follow your dreams wasn’t hard enough, the male-dominated world of high cuisine - and Sushi in particular - made her fight even more to make her mark.

What this gave her, she says, was a “feeling that I cannot (allow myself to) fail”. Or to put it another way, “Just don’t let me f*ck up!”, said Nakayama, featured in episode 4 of the Chef’s Table.

The diminutive chef definitely fulfilled her dreams in that respect. Nakayama’s restaurant, N/Naka in Los Angeles serves up what she calls modern Kaiseki cuisine, for which Nakayama has been recognised as one of America’s best and most innovative female chefs.

Trip of a lifetime

It was during a 3-year stint working in Japan, amidst the countryside and sounds of nature, that Nakayama discovered the Kaiseki tradition that would become her passion.

“There’s this philosophy and this progression in the food. It just brought in my vision,” said Nakayama. At the same time, Nakayama knew that she had to be “100% true to who I am” and so she adapted this tradition, bringing in her own aesthetic.

A Caregiver and a Hero

When the Bang team considered which archetype Niki Nakayama fits into, there was a lot of agreement across the team: She’s a Caregiver and a Hero.

A Caregiver because of her desire to care for her diners and to provide them with a truly memorable experience - right down to the fact that she makes a note of what every diner orders when they enter her restaurant and seeks to make sure they experience something new every time. In accordance with the kaiseki tradition, she not only uses what’s local and in season in her menus, but also talks about respecting and caring for the integrity of her ingredients.

“Everything deserves effort because it’s making an effort,” she says of her backyard seedlings.

At the same time, she is a Hero, in how she fights to prove her worth and succeed against all odds, exemplifying strengths of courage and competence.

As part of our series on Chef’s Table, in which we get to know the celebrity chefs featured in the series to see which brand archetypes they align with, we aim to serve up insights into how defining your brand in terms of an archetype creates greater meaning and connection for customers. It’s something Bang loves helping our clients to do.

Nakayama’s Caregiver and Hero personality, her triumph over adversity and her genuine care, define her culinary character as much as dishes - as dazzlingly creative as they look. It is in these subtle aspects of her brand that Nakayama achieves the differentiation that drives her success.

What do you think? Join the conversation by sharing and commenting.

Up next week: The humble Ben Shewry, a Kiwi chef and leading light in the Australian and global culinary scene thanks to his work at Melbourne’s Attica restaurant, and featured chef in episode 5 of Chef’s Table.

Interested to hear more? Follow us on our website, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter to discover what happens when the Bang team talks archetypes at the Chef’s Table.