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Seattle’s Shota Nakajima Scores Another Win on ‘Top Chef: Portland’

He worked with Sara Hauman to wow co-host Tom Colicchio with rabbit and smelt

A photo of Shota Nakajima in a “Top Chef” apron with shelves of pantry items in the background Courtesy of Bravo

Shota Nakajima, Seattle’s lone representative on “Top Chef: Portland”, came through episode six last night with another win — and gave a shout out to his newly reopened Seattle restaurant Taku too.

That shoutout happened during the quickfire challenge centered around local mushrooms, which Nakajima decided to bread and fry katsu-style. “I have a katsu restaurant in Seattle so I want to give a little nod to that bar,” he said in the episode, referring to his Osaka-influenced street food spot Taku which originally centered around kushikatsu and cocktails before the pandemic. It was a very timely reference, since this week, Taku reopened focused instead on karaage (Japanese fried chicken).

“There are probably other people who are doing fried mushrooms but I want to do it better than them,” Nakajima joked. Yet his mushroom katsu with classic katsu sauce didn’t top the quickfire.

Next, he partnered up with Portland chef Sara Hauman on the “surf and turf” double elimination challenge, which sought to honor Oregon’s Indigenous communities by creating dishes with local fish and game proteins. The two drew knives and had to center their meal around rabbit and smelt.

Nakajima and Hauman turned out what ended up as the winning dish: a smoked smelt crusted rabbit loin, paired with smoked smelt, squash puree, and pickled smelt. Judge Gail Simmons called out the ingenuity of using smelt as a seasoning, while guest judge Dale Talde praised the technique behind the dish.

“No chef has ever said, let’s do a dish with rabbit and smelt,” co-host Tom Colicchio said. “Being able to execute that was just amazing to watch. It really was.”

Nakajima had a sold-out crowd yesterday at Taku to celebrate the win — and he even made Jell-O shots for the occasion to pair with the restaurant’s marinated, buttered, and twice-fried karaage nuggets and wings.

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