The Untold Truth Of Nyesha Arrington

If Nyesha Arrington isn't a natural born chef, she's as close as you can get. She told the LA Weekly podcast that her earliest coherent memory is of helping her grandmother cook, when she was around 5 years old. After high school, she knew she needed to go to culinary school if she wanted to follow her passion. "All I cared about was being a chef and cooking, and crafting my purpose on this planet, which was to just be the best," Arrington told the hosts.

If anything else defines the chef, it's that she's Californian through and through. Arrington was raised in Lancaster, on the other side of the San Gabriel Mountains from Los Angeles (via LA Weekly). Her description on the podcast of what it means to be a chef gave off a definite crunchy-granola, California vibe. "Cooking is always something that was ingrained in me because I really love to connect with the planet that we're on," she said. "I think chefs are ultimately nurturers." To give you an idea of just how California Arrington is, acclaimed Santa Monica chef Raphael Lunetta gave Arrington her first surfboard, according to LA Weekly. And if she's on dry land, you'd have a good chance of finding her on roller skates or a snowboard if she's not in a kitchen. 

Her grandmother, and some great chefs, inspired Nyesha Arrington

Arrington's first mentors were her Korean grandmother and mother. They taught her how to make wontons, bulgogi, and kimchi, per LA Weekly. She found her first professional mentors after coming home from school, on television: Julia Child, the Galloping Gourmet and the chefs on "Too Hot Tamales." After graduating from the Culinary School at the Art Institute of California in 2001, Arrington got her first restaurant job as a line cook for Raphael Lunetta, at JiRaffe (via LA Weekly). She was also Stevie Wonder's personal chef, and she learned under famed chef Joël Robuchon at his Las Vegas restaurants L'Atelier and The Mansion. 

However, she really started to develop under chef Josiah Citrin, who promoted her to saucier at his two-Michelin-star restaurant Mélisse in Santa Monica, per Bravo. Citrin had Arrington help him open two other restaurants, Lemon Moon and Caché (via Restaurant Hospitality). In a separate review, Restaurant Hospitality praised Caché for redefining "polished casual" — refined food and atmosphere that you can walk up to from the beach. However, Caché closed in 2010, just one year after it opened — a move that Arrington called "extremely devastating" (via LA Weekly). She retreated to the Virgin Islands for a brief stint as executive chef at Spice Mill. Her fortunes would soon improve drastically, however, thanks to a TV cooking competition.

Nyesha Arrington's cuisine is uniquely Californian

Arrington was already starting to make a name for herself at Citrin's L.A. based restaurants. But she got an even bigger break in 2011, when she won the executive chef job at the Wilshire on the short-lived Food Network show "Chef Hunter" (via LA Weekly). The Wilshire was the last stepping stone Arrington needed before finally landing her dream job — running her own restaurant, per LA Weekly. At her Venice restaurant Leona, Arrington was able to assert her culinary identity. She called it "California progressive," and despite its name, her cuisine was all over the map (via Restaurant Hospitality). Her cooking is rooted in the traditional French techniques but also includes Japanese and North African influences. LA Weekly called Arrington's fare "New L.A. cuisine" — tastes from many cultures distilled in all-American dishes.

For Arrington, L.A. cuisine also means close relationships with farmers — an important facet of her second restaurant, Native, which she opened in 2017, according to LA Weekly. Her menu and her overall ingredient list were short, enabling her to buy seasonal produce from a handful of local farmers based at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. But Arrington was forced to close Native just a year and a half after opening it. The restaurant's profitability was jeopardized by the rising minimum wage and a "crazy" rent cost, Arrington told the Los Angeles Times.

Nyesha Arrington has been on a lot of food TV

A decade ago, a spate of TV appearances put the chef on the culinary map. At the same time Food Network was airing "Chef Hunter," she also appeared as a cheftestant on season nine of "Top Chef" (via Bravo). Two years later, in 2013, Arrington won reality cooking competition "Knife Fight," and later returned as a guest judge. She also recently appeared virtually in Selena Gomez's kitchen during the COVID-19 quarantine, to teach Gomez and her friends how to prepare some fine-dining dishes on "Selena + Chef" on HBO Max (via the LA Weekly podcast). "I felt really cheffy because I empowered them to do a great dish," Arrington said of the experience.

This year, Arrington won a play-in tournament to qualify for Guy Fieri's "Tournament of Champions II," according to Guilty Eats. And Screen Rant tells us, she is a regular judge on the Millennial-friendly "Chopped: Next Gen," which hit Discovery+ in May. Next, Arrington plays a big part in a new Gordon Ramsay show on Fox called "Next Level Chef" (via Deadline). She will be pitted against Ramsay and chef Gino D'Acampo as they recruit teams of chefs to compete for a $250,000 prize.

Nyesha Arrington supports several causes

Arrington is a chef with a cause — several causes, actually. Her biography on the Bravo website says she has lent her celebrity and cooking talent to a large number of charities, including Share Our Strength, the American Cancer Society, Planned Parenthood, California WineMasters for Cystic Fibrosis, Good Food Festival Santa Monica, Plate by Plate for Project by Project, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Cooking for Solutions. The Los Angeles Times mentioned that Arrington also uses her pedestal as a chef to advocate against food waste in the industry.

In addition, Arrington recently partnered with Shake Shack in West Hollywood to offer her Aisoon Burger and her version of the chain's crinkle cut fries (via LA Weekly). Arrington named the burger after the grandmother who inspired her to cook, and it came with braised oxtail marmalade, griddled onions, cheese, and Kewpie mayo. This was all for a cause, too — proceeds benefited The Collective Identity, a group of female Black leaders that mentor Black girls.

Nyesha Arrington is more than a chef, she's an entrepreneur

Arrington hasn't run a restaurant since she closed Native in 2019, but if anything, she has been busier than ever. She hosts cooking demonstrations around the world and started a podcast about restaurants called Happy Mouth that Popsugar called "addictive." While fans of food TV are almost guaranteed to see her on one show or another this year, Los Angeles locals want to see Arrington open another restaurant. 

"Will I open a restaurant again?" Arrington asked herself on the LA Weekly podcast. "I hope so. I'm a creative soul who's in a chef's brain." She said any new venture needs to be something she can "build community around." She added, "Ultimately, I love that exchange. I love to be able to see the smiling faces of people eating my food."

Arrington has so many projects happening at once because she sees herself as more than a chef. "I'm a chef, but in my core, I'm a businesswoman," she told Popsugar. She lives by a saying her dad once said to her, "Aim for the moon and hit the fence post, but never aim for the fence post and hit the dirt." She said she took that to mean she should dream big. "My ultimate goal," Arrington said, "is to break that systemic idea that people like me can't win."