Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites by Jamie Michalak

Cover image for Niki Nakayama.

Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites by Jamie Michalak & Debbi Michiko Florence, illustrated by Yuko Jones (9780374313876)

Told in a series of meals and food, this is the story of how she rose to become a great Japanese-American chef. Starting with growing up in LA to parents who came from Japan, eating American food with a Japanese influence. Niki wanted to do her own thing, deciding not to go into the family seafood warehouse business and showing her family that she could be as successful as her older brother was expected to be. After high school, she traveled to Japan and discovered the art and flow of the kaiseki feast, a series of dishes that told a story. She went to culinary school, worked as the lone woman in a sushi restaurant, and then went on to learn kaiseki, even though no women did that either. Niki returned to LA to open a restaurant, first serving sushi to prove to her family she could do it, and then finally, opening the kaiseki restaurant she always wanted.

Using the food itself to form the structure for this picture book biography makes for a delicious journey through Nakayama’s life. Her family may not have believed in her, but Nakayama had enough determination and resilience herself to make it. Powered by her love of food and its ability to bring people together, her story shows how small steps in a journey can become destinations and life callings.

The illustrations are bright and full of foodie warmth. They focus on Nakayama herself both with her family and on her journeys. The food is central too, dishes that are colorful, steaming, luscious. Using clever frames of restaurant doorways, prep counters and plates, the illustrations always come back to Nakayama and her food.

A brilliant look at an inspiring figure in food who did it her own way. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.