Lisa K. Nakamura is a writer, chef and owner of Allium Restaurant on Orcas Island, Washington. She hails originally from Hilo, Hawaii, where she spent many a rainy afternoon reading and re-reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Her love of languages and stories was nurtured by Dr. Seuss, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume and strict elementary school teachers. A natural parrot and mime, Lisa has enjoyed living overseas and all over the United States, listening and learning new tongues, tales and traditions.
Bucky the Dollar Bill is Lisa’s first attempt at writing a book, and at self-publishing. This book tells the story of how a single dollar bill changes the lives of many people in a small town when he is spent, reflecting Lisa’s support of a strong local economy. Trivia information about Lisa: she has her degree in botany from Arizona State University; she was a flight attendant for almost nine years; she is an avid knitter of straight things like scarves, as she has not mastered the art of knitting something round like a hat.
Congratulations Chef Lisa Nakamura on being our Chef of the Month for November! It was our pleasure getting to know you! Our white chef coat looks great on you!
1. What is the name of your company and where are you based?
Gnocchi Bar, Seattle, WA.
2. What is your birthplace?
Seoul, South Korea
3. What made you decide to become a chef?
When I was a flight attendant, I used to do a lot of gourmet cooking on my time off and I used to watch a lot of cooking shows like Julia Child’s and other Chefs. With the practice, I got better at it and really enjoyed it.
4. What do you enjoy doing outside of being a chef?
I like being outdoors – skiing, hiking and biking with my husband. I like to spend time with my family and I also like to read a lot and write and blog – which is very therapeutic for me.
5. What is your favorite social media platform?
I am torn between Facebook and Twitter. Facebook is like a conversation that you share in depth about what you find interesting and Twitter is immediate news.
6. What is your Must Have Kitchen Tool?
A great pair of Knives – you can do anything with them. I like the brand, Global because they are easy to sharpen and maintain.
7. What is your specialty dish?
Gnocchi like polenta, sweet potato and potato. I do what matches the season and add my flair to it.
8. What’s the strangest thing you ever ate?
Slugs and live Octopus.
Chef Lisa Nakamura’s Pickled Beets and Bleu Cheese on Crostini Recipe
Serves about 12
1 bunch medium size beets
4 ounces fresh arugula
1 lb of bleu cheese (bleu d’auvergne, Roquefort, Maytag or Gorgonzola)
¼ olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
For pickling brine:
1 cup red wine vinegar
¾ cup white sugar
1 T kosher salt 1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
3-4 all spice berries
1 piece star anise
Bring all of the pickling brine ingredients to a boil in a stainless steel pot. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from the heat and let it cool.
Peel the beets, and then cut into fine julienne. When the brine is cool, add the beets to the brine. Refrigerate for at least one day.
For the crostini, take the baguette and slice on the diagonal into very thin slices, about ¼ inch thick. Lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes or until crispy. The crostini at the outer edges of the baking sheet will be done first. Remove from the oven and let them cool completely. These can be made the day before, and stored in an air-tight container.
To serve, place on each crostini slice a good amount of bleu cheese. Top with an arugula leaf (you can de-stem for a neater appearance). Add a few slivers of the pickled beets and serve.
9. Who would you most like to cook for?
American rapper, Macklemore. He is an American rapper from Seattle. I admire the fact that he launched himself into the stratosphere through hard work and determination and he has such an awesome story.
10. Do you enjoy dining out on your free time? What is your favorite type of cuisine?
I do. I like Chinese or Indian and every now and then, sushi.
11. What features are important to you when selecting a Chef Coat? (particular fabric, style, sleeve length, pockets)
Fabric is huge. I like a good weight cotton, 100%. Not polyester because it makes me too hot. I like long sleeves and love the grommets under the arms and pockets are also huge for me.
~Her experience and advice~
12. How long have you been a chef and where did you study?
I have been cooking for 18 years and studied at a small French culinary school in Maryland, called L‘Academie de Cuisine.
13. What education or experience would you recommend for aspiring chefs?
Before you spend money on schools, go get a job in a kitchen first and if you like it, then go to school.
14. What would you recommend as far as on-the-job training?
Get into the best restaurant when you can even if it means washing dishes or picking lettuce, because when you are there, you should be learning and be aware of everything. When the opportunity presents itself, you can step into those shoes. The first couple of jobs you take will show you the path you will follow in your culinary career.
15. What is your greatest challenge in getting the ingredients you need?
When I was on Orcas Island, I really felt it. In Seattle, it is very seasonal but I do actually like to cook in the season. You have to be creative in what you serve as you don’t have the ingredients that you would normally use.
16. Do you try to experience your competitors’ food? Do you ever get ideas from them?
Oh yes. A lot of times…We live in a very competitive world and it is great to see what other people do.
17. Do you think it is important to visit the markets rather than just have standard orders?
Oh yes. First of all, if you do not go to the farmer’s markets once a month, you will not know what’s in season and what is good quality. You have to be aware. It reminds you of what you can do and also generate ideas.
18. How do you test a new recipe without putting it on the permanent menu?
If I am pretty sure it’s going to work, I will run it as a special. I also cook for my family and based on their feedback, put it on the menu.
19. What is your advice for planning a menu for a new restaurant?
You should be asking these questions…
- Who is going to be cooking?
- How much storage space will your restaurant have?
- What kind of dining will you do – fine or casual?
- How big is your kitchen?
- How big is your dining area versus your kitchen space?
- What is your restaurant location? Some dishes will fly and some will fall flat based on location.
- What will be the age of your clients – teenagers, seniors, working class etc?
Once you open the restaurant, you might change these things again even if you have it all planned as you discover more.
20. How do chefs use technology in their day to day operations?
- I read the NY times Dining Section and many other sites which other chefs do as well.
- Social media forums
- The Internet – you can get so much info.
- Square, Open Table applications
- Payment processing systems so restaurants offer less waiting times for their client’s payments
- Google – google places to eat or find out information about ingredients via our smart phones
- Texting – this makes it so easy to communicate with your staff
- Many advances in Kitchen Appliances – makes things so much easier for us to cook
21. What phone apps do Chefs use in their day to day?
Chef’s Feed – http://chefsfeed.com/
~2014 and The Future~
22. What dining trends do you see taking place for 2014?
- Restaurants are becoming more specialized and very individualized like ramen restaurants or gelato places
- Casual dining – people are eating out more often 2 – 3 times a week
- Adventurous – people are being more adventurous like trying out ramen restaurants for example
- Food Sensitivities – restaurants are adapting their menus more to include these types of customers
23. How has the revolution to eat healthy influenced you as a Chef?
I am a butter and cream kind of girl. It is hard not to have that in my dishes. I am learning that less is more and how to do that and still have people indulge. I think about do I serve dishes made with wholewheat or bleached flour or organic versus conventional? I would love to go organic all the time but will people pay the price? As a consumer, I do not go organic all the time but as much as possible. Also thinking of questions like how do we use the waste from our kitchens wisely can help us be more “green.”
24. What do you think of “Green Kitchens?” Is it realistic to outfit your kitchens to be environmentally friendly?
Restaurants that are old buildings – it is harder for them to convert to “green” and be outfitted that way. They cannot adapt so easily to recycling or monitoring chemicals or how much compost they can use.
With a new restaurant, you can set it up from scratch by using solar panels, auto heaters and the costs will eventually pay these off. You can push it as far as you want too with a new restaurant and hopefully we can all get to that point.
25. How does Social Media play a role for Chefs today?
It flattens the pyramid. It makes me more approachable and I can connect directly with my consumers or guests. I am not just a person in a white chef coat. You can tell a lot about chef’s personalities via social media. A lot of the time chefs receive praise and criticisms but to share great things and have a dialogue and get feedback is even greater. It gives us an idea what is important to them. When we work during the social hours, it is great to know what is going on about them and connect as we only see them once or twice during the year.