We’re excited to be speaking today with acclaimed Michelin-starred Chef Shin Thompson; greetings and salutations, Chef Shin! Before we jump into the proverbial Q&A frying pan, how has 2023 been treating you?
It’s been a whirlwind opening Niku X but it’s been a good experience overall. I still feel like there is so much more I want to accomplish in 2023. Coming out of the COVID era where businesses – especially restaurants – were affected, it’s great to see things are getting back to normal and the pace has definitely picked up. We have been busy building out the team at Niku X, and all of the things that come with opening up a new restaurant.
Major accolades and kudos on your many accomplishments in the culinary world! Starting at the top, can you talk with our ever-inquisitive readers about your efforts overseeing one of the finest restaurants in all of Los Angeles, Niku X? How did Niku X become a significant part of your professional career?
It all started when I met Harby Yang, the owner of the Chubby Cattle group through a mutual architect who had worked with him. We met with him and he convinced Liga and I to move to Los Angeles and open up this ambitious project, Niku X. Being a chef in Los Angeles is really exciting, especially since we have all this fresh seasonal produce readily available!
For a first time patron at Niku X, what sort of fine dining experience might they expect on any given night?
Our goal when guests are dining with us is more than just fine dining. We want to curate a unique and memorable experience for all our guests when sitting down surrounded by their friends, family, and colleagues. We want to help them create a lasting dining experience that they can look fondly upon.
How have your highly celebrated turns at the Bonsoirée in Chicago (where you were the Executive Chef and the owner) and your conceptualization of the highly successful Furious Spoon Ramen prepared you for your overseeing of Niku X?
Bonsoiree was fine dining and Furious Spoon was a ramen chain that focused on managing large teams and developing our employees, which are two completely different concepts. We also had multiple locations to oversee. Niku X is a combination of both, it’s fine dining focused on elevated cuisine and managing a larger team since the restaurant seats 160.
What sort of an experience does a guest at the Niku X receive that is exclusive and not to be experienced anywhere else in Los Angeles?
We give our guests an interactive and educational culinary experience. A part of what makes Niku X so special is the sourcing and quality of our ingredients. We’re able to take our guests through a wagyu journey to explore rare cuts of wagyu and unique seafood combinations that have never been paired together. Our servers are with our guests every step of the way to guide them through the entire journey.
How do your roots in Yamaguchi, Japan inform your own culinary journey?
Growing up in Japan gave me the opportunity to be immersed in traditional Japanese culture. A big part of the culture is food. There are so many different types of Japanese food with different cooking methods, flavor combinations, and unexpected elements. I’ve taken traditional Japanese elements and integrated them into contemporary styles to elevate our menus at Niku X.
What began your fascination with food and fine dining? Is there a Secret Origin story which you could share with us?
I have always enjoyed things to be precise. The biggest difference between fine dining and regular food is the presentation and appeal. People don’t realize how much your eyes influence the taste of the food, so to enjoy the dish you have to be in the right mindset. For example, if you really love pasta but are not in the mood for pasta, you’re not going to enjoy eating it, even though you love it. Visual stimulation puts the brain in the right mindset to be able to enjoy what you’re about to eat. Your brain is connected to your receptors which can alter the physiology of your taste buds, which is something the Japanese take very seriously. The visual stimulation is what prepares your mind and taste buds for the meal.
Can you talk about what it meant to you as a respected Chef to receive such a high honor as a Michelin star?
It’s always great to be recognized by anyone, no matter if it’s a high honor or being noticed in a local paper. It’s easy to get distracted by allocations versus focusing on the present moment which are the guests in front of me. It’s really important to give them the best experience and what they want or need.
You are a pioneer in championing “Farm to Table” ingredients in a harmonious fusion with nouvelle cuisine techniques. Was there a particular inspiration for this union of foods and ingredients?
“Farm (or Ranch) to Table” – or the idea behind it – is sourcing and selecting the best ingredients. For example, you can take really great ingredients and make them shine, but if you take something with lower quality, it’s difficult to make it good. The importance of sourcing is the paramount. You want to know where your food comes from, and we take pride in where exactly our meat comes from, how they are raised, and what they are fed. We take trips to visit our ranches and farms to pick the brains of the farmers themselves and learn about the ingredients and how to bring them to life.
At the end of the day, what do you hope guests as the Niku X in Los Angeles walk away with after an evening there?
I want them to walk away with everlasting memories that they can reminisce about in the future and share their experience with their close ones. I want our guests to feel like they can return to Niku X feeling like it’s home.
Final – SILLY! – Question: Favorite movie about the world of foods – Menu, Like Water for Chocolate, Big Night or Pig?
They’re all good in different ways, but I really enjoyed the Menu. Not just the food aspects, but how the movie was portrayed and the unexpected elements. I look up to Dominique Crenn for inspiration, and she actually did the menu for the movie!
Read more here >> https://ventsmagazine.com/2023/06/13/michelin-starred-chef-shin-thompson-on-his-journey-to-opening-one-of-the-finest-restaurants-in-los-angeles-niku-x/