Chef Shota and Dodger

When I received the pitch to interview Seattle chef and restaurateur Shota Nakajima, I was beyond thrilled. Shota is a three-time James Beard semi-finalist, has just reopened his anticipated Capitol Hill restaurant Taku—a Japanese fried chicken concept—and is currently competing on season 18 of Top Chef on Bravo. Needless to say, I’m a huge fan!

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But, according to Shota, the real star is his border collie Dodger!

Shota adopted Dodger in 2020 when Dodger was a year and a half and they have been inseparable ever since. He takes him everywhere including foraging excursions for wild mushrooms in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, camping trips, cook-outs, and recipe taste-testing (see Shota and Dodger’s dog food recipe on the following page).

Now two years old, Dodger entered into Shota’s life sort of serendipitously. A friend of Shota told him his personality is like a border collie, so like most dog lovers, he took it as a compliment and decided to call a breeder in Washington “just to chat and ask questions.”

“Janice DeMello from Hob Nob who breeds border collies was kind enough to talk with me,” says Shota. “At the end, she asked if I was looking for a puppy and I said not really because I don’t have time. She mentioned her friend is looking for a good home for her border collie—that they have another dog and the two don’t get along. I met up with her that day and came home with a new friend named Dodger!”

If you’re watching this season of Top Chef—or have watched any season for that matter —then you know the competition is grueling. This season, the show was taped in nearby Portland, Oregon but even so, Dodger stayed with Shota’s mom and dad while taping.

“My mom and dad watched him while I was in Portland,” says Shota. “When I call my mom or go see her, she loves Dodger and Dodger loves her, which is the sweetest thing to watch.”

Shota continues, “It was definitely hard being away from him during filming. Getting out of the shower, or jumping into bed after a stressful day and him not being there when I called his name was very weird. When I closed both my restaurants in spring 2020, I was with him 24/7. He helped me get through a lot of emotions at the time, so not having him there was tough. But, at least I had pictures and got to Zoom with him a few times!”

On episode 5, “Meet You at the Drive-In,” the chefs went head-to-head at the first-ever Top Chef Drive-In, where each team was tasked with creating dishes based on popular movie genres like comedy, science fiction, drama, adventure and horror. Yes, horror!

“My challenge was to come up with drive-in food based on horror,” says Shota. “My worst nightmare is something happening to Dodger, so I went with it.” The result? Well, let’s just say it lived up to the horror genre, but not in a good way. The “cheesy, bloody corndog,” according to Top Chef judge Gail Simmons, “Will give me nightmares.”

Shota and Dodger

Back home in Seattle, when he’s not at the new restaurant, Shota enjoys hiking or mushroom foraging with Dodger. “He also loves it when I take him sheep herding with a trainer,” says Shota. “He’s also getting better at smelling things out on command, so I’ve been training him on truffles!”

After the show finished taping, Shota took Dodger back to Hood River, Ore. “We walked around the area where we went fishing and did the outdoor challenge,” says Shota. “I shared with him behind-the-scenes stories, but he didn’t seem all that interested.”

As a chef and owner of Capitol Hill restaurant Taku, of course Shota prepares meals for Dodger. “I make him dog food with left over rice, veggies and chicken. He loves it, but he also loves to snack like me so anything makes him happy.”

Of course we had to ask Shota for a recipe to share with readers!

“In my fried chicken joint Taku we have rice left over at the end of the night that I don’t want to go to waste, so I decided to turn it into dog food,” says Shota. “My dog has long hair, so I added salmon oil to the recipe and now I barely need to brush him!”

Chef Shota's Dog Food RecipeChef Shota Nakajima’s Dog Food Recipe

1/4 cup cooked rice
1/8 cup chopped spinach
1/4 cup minced carrot
1/2 cup small diced chicken
1 cup no sodium stock/water
1 tbs salmon oil

Add everything to a pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 25 minutes at low heat, while occasionally stirring. Let cool and serve.

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