Pikunico: Chef Kuniko Yagi's Journey From Michelin to Meditation
Success isn’t an accident, success is a choice. As inhabitants of LA, what do we measure as true success? Beyond money or social status, and if you dissolve material objects away, what is left that contains value that truly can’t be bought? The answer is obvious, and quite frankly what we all seek — happiness. When it comes to finding one’s happiness in DTLA, sometimes the hardest task is the awareness to know when to let go. That’s exactly what Chef Kuniko Yagi did, and the result is her dream within a dream. A kitchen built on patience, practice, and respect. An environment built for familiar faces and family, and a passion project that combines authentic cooking techniques, local ingredients, and the absolute delineation of heart. Say hello to Pikunico, your new outdoor picnic indoors, and Chef Kuniko’s happy place.
This isn’t another dropped pin for a new fried chicken joint. Pikunico dishes out extremely tasty house-made “karaage” (Japanese-style fried chicken) served in a sandwich, basket, or rice bowl, along with market-driven salads and sides. The happiness that Chef Kuniko carries with her confident grin is laced into every single mouthwatering bite. The coveted crispy and flavorful creations are meticulously mastered by Kuniko, a mirrored reflection of her alternate past as a Chef de Cuisine of Michelin-starred kitchen of Sona. Kuniko let go of that path when she understood it was time.
The kitchen at Pikunico is a hybrid of American and Japanese fried chicken, which traditionally uses thigh meat marinated in ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and sake battered lightly with potato starch. The harmonization of these ingredients perhaps learned when Kuniko served as Executive Chef of David Myers’ brasserie, Comme Ça. She accepted it was time to let go of that role when the moment arrived.
Pikunico’s design is a warm airy breeze to counteract the cold monochrome concrete that is found within our city. The design blends elements of the quintessential American picnic with Japanese influences. Wooden accents mix together with greenery as space feels alive and crisp. Kuniko knows how to bring a room to life, she opened and helmed the kitchen of the award-winning Hinoki & the Bird — she moved on from that position when her heart told her to.
Before Pikunico’s red neon sign buzzed on, Chef Kuniko took the time she desired. “When I left Hinoki, I knew I had an opportunity to grow myself as a better person.” She then found her journey through meditation and yoga to seek the answer, “what is my destiny, what can I do for others?”
We all seek purpose, and it’s a challenge more often than one would like to admit. Challenges are what make life exciting, and overcoming obstacles is what makes life meaningful. Why did Chef let go? “The journey led me to realize that my heart is ultimately with my customers, and being able to cook great food for as many different types of people as I can.”
Kuniko Yagi reminds us it’s never too late to overcome any obstacle in life. After accepting when to let go, she went on a journey inside and found her answer. This is it, Pikunico, a culinary gift and life lesson of diligence for us all. Did we mention Kuniko was a banker before becoming a prolific chef?
Let go of the days itinerary and head to Pikunico as soon as you put this article down — you’ll be extremely happy about it.
Written by Travis Platt | Photography by GL Askew II