Seattle’s Shota Nakajima Nabs His First (Co)Win on ‘Top Chef: Portland’


On the April 8 episode of “Top Chef,” Shota Nakajima (center) earned a victory with fellow contestant Avishar Barua (second from the left). | David Moir/Bravo

The lobster sunomono he cooked with fellow contestant Avishar Barua was a hit on the season’s second episode

Seattle’s lone representative on “Top Chef: Portland” is off to a hot start. A week after a top four showing in the new season’s first elimination challenge, Shota Nakajima cooked the judges’ favorite dish alongside fellow contestant Avishar Barua in the second episode. The two teamed up on a lobster sunomono with double cream coffee and stout reduction, carbonated grapes, and furikake.

Nakajima really impressed buzzer to buzzer throughout the show. In the diner-themed quickfire challenge, the chef — who owns Capitol Hill’s Taku — had to show off his short-order skills, and chose to make dim sum. He served up a shrimp dumpling mochi with sweet soy green onion sauce, which won a face-off with Barua, an executive chef based out of Columbus, Ohio.

Later, the elimination challenge required the contestants to come up with dishes based on either coffee or beer, two Portland specialties. Nakajima drew the latter ingredient to highlight, then went about planning a dish to cook on his own, only to find out along with everyone else that this would be a team-based contest instead. All the chefs had to scrap their initial recipes, and work with another contestant on a collaborative plate with the ingredients they already collected.

Nakajima paired up with his quickfire foe, and the two seemed to bond a bit, with Barua giving the more diminutive chef a ribbing on camera. “No one wants Avishar; I look left and right, no one wants to look at me, then I look down and I see Shota,” said Barua. The chemistry clearly paid off in the twist on sunomono they prepared (Nakajima was responsible for the double cream and apple pickles components), which earned heaps of praise for its innovation. Judge Tom Colicchio gushed, “This was totally original; this was out of left field, but it worked together because of the balance of the dish.”

So far, Nakajima is one of the contestants to watch among stiff competition, and is gradually starting to reveal more of his background on the show. In the second episode, he opened up a bit more about the devastation he felt when closing his acclaimed restaurant Adana in May 2020, and placing his new venture Taku on indefinite hold due to the pandemic. “I put so much love and effort into it. And then I kind of went a little downhill and I started drinking a lot,” he said. “I do need to focus. I need to kind of put myself back together, and I think that’s another reason why I got onto this competition.”

Now, Nakajima is starting to hit his stride, and is embracing the “Top Chef” life in full. Fans can find a recipe for the lobster dish he co-created on YouTube. And on April 24, he is doing a one-night-only pop-up dinner at Taku with fellow contestants Sara Hauman and Byron Gomez. The event has six seats up for auction, with 100 percent of proceeds going to fund a meal program to help low-income residents in the International District. The menu for the pop-up includes salmon tartare, fried plantain ice cream, and sea urchin doughnuts, with bids opening Friday, April 9, at noon; the link will be in Nakajima’s Instagram bio.

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