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How do you characterize your cuisine?

Modern Japanese.

What region or ethnicity most influences your cooking?

JL: I have the soul from the American South and the technique from the French.

MS: Japan.

What is your signature dish?

JL: Mustard-glazed short ribs, tuna tacos.

MS: Tokyo crispy chicken, mustard-glazed short ribs.

What kind of food were you exposed to as a child?

JL: I grew up in South Carolina, so it was predominantely Lowcountry Southern. My mother is a fabulous Southern cook.

MS: My father is German and Japanese and grew up in Tokyo, and my mother is half Okinawan, so we ate a lot of Japanese food. If we weren't eating something Japanese for dinner, we still had white rice. We also ate out quite a bit. It's so cheap and easy to get good food in San Francisco, where I grew up. I can remember barely being able to reach the table and having a big bowl of pho steam my face. Or picking out which salsa I wanted in my burrito at the taqueria. Then I became vegetarian and discovered different types of proteins and produce. However there was that one year I ate nothing but rice, tofu, and kimchee.

Have you ever lived or trained overseas? Where?

JL: I lived in Australia for a year while in high school.

MS: I moved to Paris after high school to be an au pair. While I was there, I opted out of French classes to take cooking classes instead. I was baking soufflés with Japanese tourists and basting with cognac next to German queens. It was in the Marais that I fell in love with falafel. I had had it before, but never like the ones in Paris.

Is there an exotic spice or ingredient that you particularly enjoy using?

JL: I'm big on pimenton (the smoked paprika from Spain), although I don't use it a lot currently. Right now my go to is a bottle of yuzu kosho.

MS: I really like using bonito as a powder to season with. We sautée our pea shoots with it at NIKO and it always reminds me of my Okinawan grandmother cooking broccoli with dashi base.

Does the design and style of your restaurant evoke a particular place? If so, where?

An artist's loft in Soho.

When you cook for yourself, what do you make?

JL: I generally opt for a pasta dinner. I'll spend a couple hours sourcing really nice ingredients but only about 20 minutes cooking. On my one day off I don't like to be sweating in the kitchen.

MS: My husband is from Mexico, so my white rice has been replaced with tortillas. We cook a lot of different foods and mix and match. Meatballs with arepas, miso soup and taquitos. Ninety percent of my meals are at Niko...kind of whatever is leftover at a cook's station or family meal (chicken and rice), so when I'm home I try to fit in as many vegetables as possible.

We like to entertain when we're off. Lots of BBQs in the summer with whole fish, grilled shrimp, etc. We usually have a big Thanksgiving with our friends and I'll make my five-spice roast turkey with kimchee rice stuffing.

Tell us about some trips you've taken for inspiration.

JL: I went to California last spring and had a great time visiting wineries, touring farms, and, of course, eating. David Kinch at Manresa turned me on to an abalone and seaweed farm in Monterrey that we continue to use. Every time I leave California I feel very energized and enthusiastic.

MS: As a kid we visited my grandparents in Tokyo a lot. I would try everything, even sashimi with the flesh still twitching. When I lived in France I visited an uncle in Germany who showed me around and took me to eat everything—potato pancakes on the street during Carnival, different head cheeses and cured meats, amazing breads and cakes. It was in Europe that I really developed a sweet tooth. For a good three years after getting back to the States, I still had to stop my day at 4pm for a cup of tea and some chocolate.

What are your thoughts on global cuisine?

JL: It is something that is ever-changing and evolving. I think New York City is the prime example of global cuisine; this melting pot of different cultures and cuisines. Ten years from now it will be very interesting to see how New York cuisine has evolved.

MS: I've realized that we really do live in a small world, especially in NYC where we can get almost anything within 24 hours. This makes it less intimidating to use ingredients that are traditionally used in a specific cuisine. Also, with the mixing of cultures and ethnicities comes the mixing of food. As chefs in a metropolitan city like New York, it's our job to find new ways of using ingredients while keeping the integrity of their origins.