Chef Shota Nakajima confronts the elements to catch his supper. “I like catching food and eating it,” he says. “It's a weird romantic thing.” He also reflects on one of the scariest experiences of his life.

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At least it’s not pitch-black and pouring rain. Chef Shota Nakajima is trying to catch squid on the Seattle waterfront, right on the same pier as the huge Ferris wheel. Squidding here, at the foot of downtown’s skyscrapers, happens in the middle of winter at high tide, when the squid sometimes come into the shallow water. If the timing happens to be right in the dead of night, so be it: Extra-bright flashlights, shined down off the dock into the water, help attract the quarry. Right now, it’s near sunset ― that’s 5 p.m. (no joke) — with an abundance of clouds tinged gorgeous pink and the Great Wheel’s spokes illuminated in complementary pastels. The wind is brisk and very cold.

When the jigging’s good, Nakajima says, people line up all along the railing and around the other side, out on the Seattle Aquarium’s pier. The jig is the lure, a special one with a fateful crown of hooks; jigging is the gentle, fluid up-and-down motion used with the fishing pole. Out here, he’ll see people he knows from the Asian community or met at local fishing stores (he got his tackle box at now-departed Seattle treasure Linc’s). Everyone shares beers and swaps stories to while away the time, though it won’t necessarily be long. On a good day (or night), he says, he can be here in minutes from his Capitol Hill restaurant, Adana, then have enough squid to sauté in butter and garlic for staff meal in an hour — enough to fill this up, he says, indicating his bucket. Today, in a classy touch, he’s brought a stainless steel Champagne one.

No one else is out right now, though a guy here a bit earlier had some luck. The few bundled-up tourists who pass by are curious, but not enough to linger. Nakajima, in street clothes and a light jacket, wishes offhandedly that he’d worn another layer. He doesn’t have any special outerwear for squidding occasions; he’s not that invested in sartorial matters, in general. His mom still buys most of his clothes, he says, laughing.

Even when his hands get so cold it’s hard to tie a jig onto fishing line, Nakajima’s pretty much beaming. He just got in trouble on a Food Network photo shoot for smiling too much, he says, laughing. He competed on “Iron Chef Gauntlet” last year, finishing fourth, and now he’s going to be on a show again, though he can’t yet reveal which one. “You know, it’s gotta be the arms-crossed, serious face,” the standard Food Network chef pose. He laughs some more.

Nakajima’s only been squidding since last winter — Adana’s executive chef, Chris Hoey, taught him how — but he’s already had “probably one of the scariest experiences of my life,” as he puts it. In December, he closed the restaurant early and came down with seven members of his crew for some team bonding. “We were squidding over there” — he points to the aquarium side — “and we heard a big splash … we started to hear ‘Help!’ so we just all booked it over here.” A woman was in the freezing-cold water, far below the pier. Nakajima emptied his pockets and scrambled down a long ladder, right by the ticket office for the Great Wheel. At the barnacled bottom of it, he was able to get ahold of her, but, he recalls, “It was scary. She was slipping off, after holding onto me for a little while, because of hypothermia. I’m losing strength, too, because I’m down there for five to 10 minutes.” His team threw down ropes and called the police, who were able to get the woman up and immediately into a waiting ambulance.

The woman lived. Nakajima still doesn’t know exactly what happened, and he doesn’t need to. For him, it was just instinct. “I have this weird personality where I don’t think about things when I do stuff,” he says. Weird, or courageous and bold? “My mom hates that about me,” he laughs. “She saw the news and was like, ‘Good job, but I hate that you are the person who would always do that.’ “

The Ferris wheel’s glowing brighter now as dusk starts to fall. He decides to try his luck back on the aquarium side. The short version of Nakajima’s bio is that he grew up here, started out washing dishes and peeling onions at Kiku Sushi in Bellevue, then moved to Osaka at age 18 to apprentice with Michelin-starred chef Yasuhiko Sakamoto. A decade later, at just 28, he runs critically acclaimed Adana, serving traditional Japanese comfort food made with scrupulously sourced Pacific Northwest ingredients, inspired by both his training and his mom’s home cooking.

The longer version, which you might hear if you go squidding with him, involves family in the food business in Japan on both sides — on his mother’s with multigenerational professional bread-baking in Tokyo, and on his father’s with the three-Michelin-starred Kyoto restaurant Hyotei, going back 400 years. “I was supposed to go train there,” Nakajima says. “I don’t know — I didn’t like the fact that my path was set that way.” He also eschewed a highly formal style of food in favor of one that, while still meticulous, had more “just straightforward, delicious flavors … that’s kind of what I fell in love with.”

He still aimed a little too high when he opened his first restaurant here, in 2015. Called Naka, it offered a $75-and-up kaiseki menu, which turned out to be too rich for Capitol Hill’s blood. He was pouring his heart and soul into the place — he lives upstairs — but had to recognize it was time to revamp. “I’m good at learning things the hard way!” he says. “With my personality, I just do it before I think twice.” When he did, he came up with Adana, with a $37 set menu, plus more casual food in the bar. Now, he says, “It’s turning into what I wished for, more and more … this small, community space, where people get to know each other and get good food.” His philosophy: “You cook what you love, and you just hope people love it and come back.”

Nakajima works six-plus days a week, and in the winter, squidding functions as his “me time.” He’ll think a lot … about work. So far today, he’s somehow caught a rock, lost one of his jigs that got stuck on something on the bottom of the Sound, then caught someone else’s lost jig back. He’s talked about hunting for chanterelles on Tiger Mountain in the fall, three or four days a week. He’s planning to take some of his crew to Mexico to fish for tuna. “I like catching food and eating it,” he muses. “It’s a weird romantic thing.”

He’s not too worried about consuming squid caught in the highly trafficked runoff of Elliott Bay. “Excessive amounts might be bad,” he allows. But “I eat almost anything!” he laughs.

Finally, Nakajima hooks a tangle of someone else’s left-behind fishing line. “The one time I forget my pocket knife!” he says. On the dock, the filaments are nearly invisible in the losing light.  Eventually, they twine absurdly onto his backpack, into his shoelace, somehow around his ankle. Today, the Champagne bucket goes home empty, but Nakajima, sanguine in the cold wind, will definitely be back.

Adana, 1449 E. Pine St., Seattle, 206-294-5230; adanaseattle.com

Shota Nakajima’s Osaka Burger — with Painted Hills grass-fed beef, miso aioli, karashi aioli, caramelized onions, shredded cabbage, crushed Calbee chips, a sunny-side-up egg and aonori seaweed — is part of Lil Woody’s Burger Month, Feb. 6-12; lilwoodys.com/seattleburgermonth