“Top Chef” champion Brooke Williamson and husband Nick Roberts bring Hawaiian street food to Playa Vista
By Jessica Koslow
“Top Chef” reigning champion Brooke Williamson likes to keep things moving.
Whether it’s opening a new restaurant — Runway at Playa Vista newcomer Da Kikokiko is her and husband Nick Roberts’ fourth — or changing her hair color from her natural honey brown to purple and now to blonde, Williamson likes to find outlets for her creativity.
“We could continue to do the same kind of cuisine,” says Williamson, sitting beside Roberts on an outdoor bench of Da Kikokiko (which means “the spot” in Hawaiian), “but we wouldn’t fulfill everything we want to do. Having so many different concepts allows us to think of a dish and have a place to put it.”
Williamson is referring to the couple’s growing restaurant empire, called Company for Dinner, which also includes Hudson House in Redondo Beach and Playa Provisions, The Tripel and the culinary boutique Tripli-Kit in Playa del Rey.
Sandwiched between Hopdoddy Burger Bar and a Chase bank branch, Da Kikokiko opened in October and specializes in the couple’s three favorite Hawaiian foods: poke, shaved ice and musubi (grilled spam on top of rice, wrapped together with a piece of seaweed).
“We’ve always liked Hawaiian food,” says Roberts. “We have a favorite place on Washington Boulevard, Rutt’s Cafe. I’m a Spam fanatic. I love Spam. This is an awesome collaboration between all of those foods.”
“It’s surprising there aren’t more Hawaiian street food places,” adds Williamson. “There are poke places, but in order to find musubi you have to seek it out.”
Serving authentic shaved ice is important to the couple, who have an 8-year-old son who loves the cold treat. They traveled to Hawaii to experience and recreate the texture of real shaved ice, which should not taste crunchy and overly sweet like a snow cone.
Da Kikokiko’s chunky poke bowls include seven signature recipes or the option to build your own from mild or spicy yellowfin tuna, lomi-lomi salmon, octopus, Japanese eggplant or ‘Krab with a K’ combined with any of 30 different toppings and one of six sauces.
Williamson and Roberts met 15 year ago in the kitchen of Zax in Brentwood. Roberts was Williamson’s sous-chef. So, then, they were friends first?
“Sort of,” says Roberts.
“… ish,” adds Williamson. “We didn’t love each other at first.”
Today, they wouldn’t have things any other way. As they stand side by side in the kitchen plating a Yellowfin Tuna poke bowl, or sit together talking about their passion projects, their working relationship works.
“It’s the only way we know each other,” says Williamson. “It’s nice to not have to explain your day to someone who doesn’t understand.”
“Or, at the same time, explain your day and they do understand,” Roberts says.
Both Williamson and Roberts are beach lovers. It’s why they picked seaside communities for all of their restaurants. Roberts surfs. They both love the ocean.
“It feels very comfortable on this side of town,” says Williamson. “It feels like a different city.”
When the couple first met, Williamson lived in Hollywood and Roberts resided in Redondo Beach. The two moved in together in Venice, then moved from Mar Vista to Marina del Rey to Westchester, where they recently bought a home. The couple often eats dinner at local spots such as Ayara Thai Cuisine, Kanpai Japanese Sushi Bar, ASAP Phorage, Caffe Pinguini and Alejo’s.
The first restaurant Williamson and Roberts opened together was Amuse Café, which launched in 2003 on Main Street near Abbot Kinney Boulevard. After it closed, they opened Beechwood in 2005 on Washington Boulevard, but eventually decided to part ways with their partner.
Then, eight years ago, they hit their stride with Hudson House in Redondo Beach. The Tripel and Playa Provisions followed.
Tripli-Kit, currently tucked behind The Tripel, sells knives, aprons, dishes, cookbooks and other of the couple’s favorite items. Williamson’s mom is a potter, and Tripli-Kit sells her butter bells, berry bowls and olive dishes.
“We share with the public stuff they can’t get on Amazon,” says Williamson.
When Williamson’s not in the kitchen at one of her four eateries, she’s traveling — usually for TV, which is something she has a lot of fun doing, much to her surprise.
“I don’t see myself as competitive,” says Williamson.
Roberts is quick to counter: “I disagree. She’s competitive.”
And maybe he’s right. In 2012-13, Williamson was runner up in Season 10 of “Top Chef.” Her much-anticipated return for Season 14 paid off big on March 2, with Williamson claiming the “Top Chef” crown by dazzling judges with warm oyster, charred octopus, braised pork belly and flan.
With so much to do for a team of only two, it would appear that Williamson and Roberts have enough on their plate. No so, even if they dial down the pace of life now and again.
“We’re never settled,” says Williamson. “We have new ideas, even if we’re not ready to take the next step.”
“We used to push a lot harder,” says Roberts. “Now we take our time and make the right decisions.”
A version of this story also appears in the current issue of Playa Vista Direct. See more at playavistadirect.com.
Da Kikokiko 12746 W. Jefferson Blvd., Playa Vista (424) 835-4192 dakikokiko.com