Rui Nakata takes a mid-day break from her full time engineering job to meet me at her home for some afternoon baking and imbibing. The prolific Nakata not only has her own eponymous lifestyle blog, but also, a companion libations blog. Today she is treating me to some wintery indulgences, Frangipane Pies and Red Wine with Spice Dram Cocktails.
Nakata is a self-described “creative and multi-passionate,” which is evident the second I enter her space. Every angle of Nakata’s thoughtfully curated home is a vignette worthy of World of Interiors. Polaroids tucked into mirrors, a bar stocked with liquor bottles filled with quarters, an artful collection of foreign currency and stacks of coffee table books ranging from rock and roll photography to exotic cuisines all reflect her curiosity and aesthetics.
We settle into her kitchen and while Rui crafts a perfectly imperfect wabi-sabi pie crust, she reflects on her Japanese roots.
Q — You were raised in Japan. How has that influenced your love of food?
Living in Japan has influenced my love of food in a lot of ways. If I had to choose one word to describe Japanese cooking, it would be “delicate”. Whether it’s making dashi with kelp and bonito flakes, zesting yuzu for the aroma, or using traditional techniques to make soup more transparent, there are many ways in which the Japanese refine and balance flavors. Cooking has always been an art form to us, and my cooking style reflects that as well.
“I never wanted to learn to cook from my mom when I was living at home in Japan. Now I miss her food so anytime I go home she teaches me one more thing.”
Q — How did you end up working as a full time engineer and writing two blogs in your spare time?
I came to Austin after graduating from college to become a software engineer full time. I’ve always been a science-y person growing up but I also have an artistic side as well. Writing code during the day and creating art by night satisfies both sides of my brain. And yes, I have two separate blogs, libationmagazine.com which is a craft cocktail blog and ruinakata.com which is a mix of entertaining and travel.
Q — You own a great selection of books. Could you share with me the cookbooks you reference the most?
The Flavor Bible and The Flavor Matrix. If you know that you want to make a pumpkin dish, you can easily look up “pumpkin” and it lists a ton of spices, herbs, fruits, vegetables, liquids, etc. that will pair with it. The Flavor Matrix is particularly interesting because they dug into the chemical makeup of food to figure out what goes well with what.
Q — You mentioned your preference for French pastries over American. What type of pastries do you most like to bake? Tell us about this fabulous pie.
I love French pastries, American pastries have too much sugar in them in my opinion which drowns out the delicate flavors of whatever else is being used. The French do a great job of balancing flavors of nuts, fruits, and butter so that each ingredient shines and they also make sure that the mouthful of each dessert is light and airy.
Q — Was there one ingredient that inspired your cocktail recipe?
Yes, Allspice Dram. It’s a liqueur made with allspice which I thought would be perfect to serve in the winter time!
Q — What’s your go-to snack food?
A cheeseboard with Castelvetrano olives.
Q — If you could have anyone over for dinner, who would that person be?
Ahh, I can’t choose one! Patti Smith, Steve Jobs, and Freddie Mercury. I love spending time with artists and visionaries.
Q — What advice can you give to someone wanting to spend more time in the kitchen and less time eating out?
If you want to spend more time at home, make your home a place that grounds you and gives you comfort. Be intrinsically motivated so that you can make the space uniquely you. Surround yourself with objects you love and get rid of objects you hate and ignore that nagging feeling of “what if I want this later?”. Because trust me, you won’t want it later. I decorate my home with a collection of objects even if they all don’t fit a single theme aesthetically, and that’s okay. You can find elements of French style mixed with Wabi Sabi mixed with Marfa Modern all in one room and it surprisingly goes together. What’s most important is that you stay true to your identity and that your home reflects that.
Words and images by Carli René of Inked Fingers. Carli Rene believes food is medicine, hasn’t owned a tv since 2004 and believes the world is best off when we create.