A Hawaiian native, Nishiyama, 35, headed east for college to study chemistry at MIT.
"I enjoyed it there but at the same time that's where I got into cooking," he said. "I did a lot of cooking in college and for the first time it dawned on me that that was something I could pursue as a career."
After graduation Nishiyama tried out consulting before following his heart into the kitchen of the Hotel Bel Air in Los Angeles, where he helped prepare cold salads and appetizers.
"It was an eye-opening experience for me," he said. At 24, "I had never been in a professional kitchen before."
The young chef went on to train at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, then earned spots at acclaimed restaurants Cello and Town. He later worked under Daniel Boulud at famed restaurant Daniel, and also at Boulud's restaurant at the Wynn resort in Las Vegas.
"It was too big of a restaurant for me personally, a high-volume situation," he said. "That's not my style of dining. I prefer a small restaurant where you can really concentrate on the food and do something nice."
That's why, he said, when Corey Lee, chef de cuisine of the renowned Napa restaurant French Laundry, offered him a position, he headed back to California.
"Everything they do there is perfection," he said, "and that's really what I strive for too."
Nishiyama said his most "pivotal" years as a chef were spent in Napa, and that he will bring all he has learned to the kitchen of Chez TJ.
"A lot of the old staff had left with the old chef, which is pretty normal," he said of the transition. "So (I've been) trying to find a staff, training them, and trying to get them to understand my style of food and what we're trying to achieve."
Nishiyama has also been utilizing local bounty, and shops at the Mountain View Farmers Market every Sunday. There he's found honey for Chez TJ's cheese plate, root vegetables from a Watsonville farm, and most recently heirloom broccoli which are "just phenomenal."
This story contains 388 words.
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