Seattle’s ‘Top Chef’ Representative Makes a Solid First Impression in the New Season’s Debut


No matter how much experience a participant has, the pressure from “Top Chef” can be difficult. But Shota Nakajima – celebrated owner of Capitol Hills Taku – made good use of the season debut of “Top Chef: Portland”. In the first elimination challenge of the season, Nakajima carefully prepared a soy braised duck breast with pumpkin and white miso puree that made the top four, despite Portland-based chef Sara Hauman winning the week.

A man standing in front of a tray of food: Shota Nakajima made it through the first episode of Top Chef: Portland, the series' 18th season.

© photo courtesy of Bravo
Shota Nakajima made it through the first episode of Top Chef: Portland, the series’ 18th season.

Season 18 of “Top Chef” was filmed in Portland in 2020, with the production kicking off pandemic-related precautions such as regular COVID tests and quarantining attendees in a hotel. As such, there was certainly a twinge of fear in the first episode as the chefs – many of whom run their own restaurants and were not sous cooks in the group – discussed the issues they had faced over the past year. Last May, Nakajima closed its multi-course Adana restaurant on Capitol Hill for good and Taku temporarily (although he will return soon). “Being back in the kitchen is very healthy for me mentally,” said Nakajima afterwards. “Here I am at home.”

Aside from a few COVID-related changes to the show’s format (as well as the addition of well-known “Top Chef” alumni as jurors), the familiar rhythms of “Top Chef” kicked in as soon as the first episode started rolling. There was a quick challenge, and Najakima teamed up with competitors Roscoe Hall and Chris Viaud to prepare a dish based on the one ingredient they couldn’t live without (Nakajima chose kombu). The result – scallops poached in kombu butter with parsnip puree and cucumber – didn’t exactly blow the judges away. But Nakajima bounced back on the main elimination challenge.

Starting with the very broad theme of “birds” as an allusion to Oregon’s wildlife, each participant was randomly assigned a different species of poultry. Nakajima was lucky with duck – and made the most of it. Nakajima used a technique he learned while training with Michelin-starred chef Yasuhiko Sakamoto in Japan. He carefully braised the duck breasts, took them out of the pan to rest, and put them back in – and kept repeating this over and over again. The court earned a lot of recognition at the judges’ table and a place in the top four. “Listening to the technology is very interesting,” said co-host Tom Colicchio. “It clearly shows us who you are and I think you served yourself really well there.”

“I’m very happy to represent Seattle and Japan at ‘Top Chef’,” says Nakajima. “It was amazing to be recognized as a top four player in my very first elimination challenge.” In 2012, “Top Chef” was a guest in Seattle. Although no local candidates have been featured this season, there have been several candidates representing the Seattle food scene in the past, including Lia Bardeen (Bramble House), Carrie Mashanay (Mamnoon), and Jason Stratton (Spinasse, MBar), though So far there have been no overall winners from “Top Chef” from Seattle. Maybe Nakajima can try to be the first. He’s got off to a decent start.

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