A level playing field. That’s all I’ve ever asked for. When my friends, typically cocky chefs, bragged about their Michelin star restaurants in New York, Chicago and Paris, all I could do was roll my eyes and say, “When Michelin comes to Southern California, then it’s on.” And, I was right. On June 3, Michelin presented its first all-state guide at a sunlit ceremony at Paséa Hotel & Spa in Huntington Beach. During that idyllic Orange County evening, 90 restaurants were celebrated as Michelin star recipients.
Niki Nakayama and Carole Iida-Nakayama of n/naka in Los Angeles stole the show. The duo had a big week. Netflix had just released Ali Wong’s celebrity chef-inspired romcom “Always Be My Maybe,” which utilized the kaiseki chefs’ talents as culinary consultants for the movie. Then on that evening, the couple stood on a male-dominated stage and took home two Michelin stars. “This could only happen in Southern California,” said Nakayama as tears streamed down her cheeks, her wife, Carole, standing beside her, arms intertwined and holding her close. “We have 20 people in our restaurant – 13 of them are women. We’re so proud of that,” added Carole. “The ingredients. The freedom – we could only do it here,” said Nakayama.