Max Chao – Executive Chef at Nara Restaurant

Executive Chef Max Chao

When you meet  Nara’s Executive Chef you’ll be smitten with his easy smile and clearly hospitable nature.  He is just “damn likeable” from the get go. So we understand why Nara regulars ask for him to stop by the table just to say hello or to get his advice on what to order, or even to ask him to prepare something special and unique just for them.  He’s just that  kind of guy.  Chinese Korean, Chef Max emigrated to the USA in 1979 –  3rd generation of a restaurateur family.  His parents created The New Peking Chinese Restaurant  on Broadway in 1982 and young Max was a key part of that operation.  In the intervening years Max opened his own successful restaurants  [Max’ Noodles & More and the Hawaiian Ohana Grill] before coming on board at Nara in 2009.   


He was enticed to join the Nara team by  old friend Koji Sakata, Nara’s Sushi Chef, and together they put their creative stamp on the Nara culinary experience. Max tells us that while sushi from the most basic to the exotic is  what many people think about when  they hear Nara [and it has been consistently honored for  that offering]. Yet their kitchen has always served award winning oriental fusion cuisine as well.  Lunch and dinner menus provide dishes reflecting  Chef Chao’s Chinese and Korean heritages, as well as Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese and some US West coast influences.  Max says he “borrows shamelessly from family recipes passed down to his Vietnamese wife from her mother and  a few stolen from his brother” the chef owner of the popular Thai fusion establishment,  Red Snapper.  


The key to great pan-Asian food Chao says: “is fresh, quality ingredients, expertly prepared and served piping hot.”  One stellar example, a dish Max really enjoys preparing, is Mongolian Chicken [our featured  recipe item].  Nara’s menu changes seasonally  in Spring and Fall  and chef delights  in  creating new dishes as well as the Lunch and Dinner Specials featured each week.  Personally, he confessed to us that his biggest guilty food pleasure is Town Topic’s Triple Burger and Triple Shake combo; but he also likes J.Gilbert’s and American barbecue at Jack Stack when not enjoying his native cuisine.


For relaxation he takes his Chocolate Lab “Bella” to the dog park, goes for a run,  or  does some croppy fishing.  “But frankly,” he says, “I really enjoying coming to work at Nara. It’s a great place all around.”  Chef Max appreciates the support and encouragement of the owner; the freedom to be creative, not to mention the fun atmosphere that pervades the Nara dining experience.  For those who don’t know Nara, located  at 16th and Main, the new streetcar passes right outside their door making it super convenient for anyone “riding the rails.”  They boast a popular outdoor patio in the warmer weather  with great views of downtown KC and their event space [for 150+] upstairs hosts many  private and  charity occasions.   With a full service bar  they offer specialty cocktails , beers, wines and Saki  to pair with  sushi or their grilled  or stir fried appetizers and entrees. 


Nara hosts a variety of special event nights through the week,  like Industry Night on Tuesdays and Wednesday  Ladies Night’ with special pricing. Chef also loves First Friday’s when  the Crossroads District draws lots of happy, hungry and thirsty art lovers who drop by  Nara – some for the experience of Naked Body Sushi [models  covered in leaves & fresh sushi].  Now that’s a delicious  sight to behold!


Chef thinks what it  is most important for diners to know about Nara is the “great personal service” that is the hallmark. “Nara’s key staff have great longevity of service, know each other well, and take pains to know their guests well, too”  For Nara it’s not just business but very personal and it shows in the  warm, individualized character of their service.  To learn more about Nara location, hours, menu] visit their web site at  and plan to drop by soon and make a new friend, Chef Max Chao!

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