There are few chefs in the game who are as multifaceted and engaging as Nyesha Arrington. The owner and executive chef of the progressive Angeleno restaurant, Native, is a refreshing personality in the ever-expanding culinary landscape.
Nyesha Arrington is a dreamy personification of the multicultural metropolis that is Los Angeles. Being of Korean, Japanese, Native-American and African-American descent who was born and raised in L.A., Chef Arrington has endless sources of memories and inspiration to pull from when creating her dishes.
“My grandmother was a Korean immigrant. My mom is half-Korean. And then my dad’s side was from Mississippi. Los Angeles born and raised but roots from Mississippi. So I had really interesting cultural influences growing up… Both of my parents cooked a lot and my mom would make mostly American style food. And on the weekends she would make wontons and things like that. When I was with my grandmother every Sunday we’d make mandoo and all the dishes. More times than not we’d have a lot of octopus, steamed rice, lettuce, gochujang and lots of banchan.”
Her vibrant personality is illustrative of coastal beach culture as she’s incredibly personable, active and world-conscious. Once she moved out to Santa Monica when she was 17, Chef Arrington stayed on the West Side and never looked back. She graduated from the Culinary School at the Art Institute of California and picked up an impressive gig at the two Michelin-star rated restaurant, Mélisse, in Santa Monica. She also competed on the country’s most popular cooking show, Top Chef, and consulted on a bunch of multimillion dollar restaurant projects along the way. But Chef Arrington considers herself a hands-on restaurant chef above all else and now spends her time running her own restaurant on the West Side. Her first restaurant, Leona, was located in Venice and focused on progressive California cuisine. Her second restaurant, Native, is just as progressive but focuses in on cuisine through the specific lens of Los Angeles.
“I am a Los Angeles, California born native which really inspired the ethos of the name of the restaurant. I am a born chef. I really feel like I was put on this earth to cook and inspire myself and people around me through food. I’ve been cooking since I was a little girl and always dreamed of having a restaurant. It’s amazing. That’s really how I communicate is through the love of food, through the love of nourishment, through the love of making amazing memories through food. That is me living out my most authentic life.”
Native, located just a stone’s throw away from Santa Monica Pier, is a stunning gem tucked away on 7th Street. Turquoise walls are accented with gold embellishments with lots of natural sunlight and wildflowers to go around. The colorful menu features many provisions from the Pacific Seas as well as the diverse cultural palates present throughout the city—all while highlighting what produce is actually in season. Diners will get to choose from exciting multiethnic dishes like Kurobota Pork Chop with gochujang glaze, Curried Lamb Belly Tortellini, Lamb Meatballs with Piri Piri and Rabbit Sugo with Sauce Diable. The prettiest menu item that you can’t leave without trying is the Grilled Spanish Octopus which comes with crispy hominy, smoked yogurt and cilantro. Chef Arrington is an avid patron of the Santa Monica Farmers Market where much of her inspiration for her seasonal menu comes from.
“The team and myself, we go to the farmers market every Wednesday and we really let the growers and ranchers and all these amazing people dictate what we put on the menu and what we cook. It’s very globally inspired.
Farmers don’t have the easiest job in the world. Someone took the time to plant that, someone picked it, someone schlepped it to the market. We brought it back here, we prepped it. We brought it to life. There’s tons of time that goes into that. Someone served it. All just for that one moment. I want people to feel that. I’m not saying that they have to eat the dish and it’s the most life-changing thing. But I do want them to feel like they complete the circle of inspiration. When it [the dish] hits the guest that’s the last piece of the puzzle. It’s a big part of why we cook.”
Seasonality is an important theme in Chef Arrington’s cooking which she hopes to ingrain further into the cultural consciousness. Restaurants such as Native impel us to consider where our food comes from and celebrate, rather than disregard, how certain foods are only available to us at distinct times of the year.
“It’s definitely a new style of cooking. It’s understanding from a chef’s perspective and from a creative’s perspective and understanding the lines, the parameters. How do I color outside the borders and still have this make sense? That’s really the awesome part of the challenge of having a multicultural menu. I think people are starting to create new levels of comfort zones. Not a lot of rules and regulations, we just kind of make them up. That’s the beauty of art.
What I’m so stoked about from a global standpoint is that the world is taking note and noticing and celebrating the things that make our world go around. Which is food policies are changing, awareness of where our food is coming from, sustainable sourcing all these things play into the life legacy of our planet. It’s a very important conversation and it’s exciting. And I want to be on the forefront of that.”