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Chefs Ray Hayashi & Cynthia Hetlinger : Inspired by Kikkoman

At RYLA, this chef duo is redefining Asian fusion on their own terms.

The southern shore of Santa Monica Bay is home to some of LA County’s most beautiful beaches flanked by a string of towns with an eclectic, laid-back-hip vibe, collectively known as South Bay. In Hermosa Beach, RYLA is bringing that vibe deliciously to life.

The brainchild of husband-and-wife chef duo Ray Hayashi and Cynthia Hetlinger, RYLA is redefining the concept of Asian fusion. While the term has often come to describe menus that feature mashups of many Asian cuisines and ingredients, at RYLA, the approach is more personal—and more of a reflection of the chefs’ own backgrounds and points of view.  

Hayashi was born in the US to Japanese parents and grew up in Gardena, where his parents ran a Japanese restaurant. Born in Taipei, Hetlinger is half Taiwanese. After graduating from an international school there, she attended New York University, then moved to LA. Hetlinger became chef garde manger at the innovative seafood restaurant Fishing with Dynamite in Manhattan Beach, where she and Hayashi met. Starting in 2017, Hetlinger spent 5 years as sous chef at 2-Michelin-star Providence under acclaimed chef Michael Cimarusti, a position she held until 2022, when the couple opened RYLA in Hermosa Beach, a few miles down the coast. 

The vibe is upscale-modern izakaya (the name for a kind of Tokyo-style eating-and-drinking pub with cocktails and small plates). More than Pan-Asian, the cuisine might be called “Japan-Asian” because it’s rooted in Japanese ideas and ingredients, with creative influences from Taiwan and an overlay of European cooking techniques from the couple’s fine-dining background.  

“I would describe the cuisine at RYLA as my take on LA cooking,” says Hayashi. “It’s ingredient-driven with lots of respect for seasonal California produce. It was a privilege to grow up in a place like L.A. where you get to try many exciting flavors.”  

“I’m drawn to Japanese cooking because it’s so product-driven,” he adds. “They focus on bringing out the umami in every ingredient. The cooking method can be very simple, but the techniques bring out complicated and deep flavors. It’s also a connection to my family heritage.” 

One of the products that inspires Chefs Ray and Cynthia is Kikkoman® Soy Sauce. “I like that it has such a deep history,” Hayashi says. “And it’s the only soy sauce we ever used at my house growing up, so it reminds me of cooking with my mom and grandma.”  

  Here’s a look at a few of the many ways Kikkoman inspires Chef Ray and Chef Cynthia at RYLA every day. 

Tuna Poke Tostada

This RYLA signature features a crispy, locally made tostada topped with sushi-grade tuna in a sweet-savory poke sauce made with five Kikkoman products: Soy Sauce, Thai Style Chili Sauce, Hoisin, Sesame Oil, and Kotteri Mirin. “I’ve been really fortunate to work at Hawaii F&W for many years,” Hayashi says. “The poke we make is inspired by those times in Hawaii and all of the amazing fresh poke I ate while I was there.”

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Agedashi Tofu

Agedashi tofu—cubes of crispy fried tofu bathed in an umami-rich broth—is classic izakaya fare. At RYLA, the broth gets its flavor from Kikkoman®️ Soy Sauce and Kotteri Mirin®️. “Agedashi Tofu is a very comforting and homey dish,” Hayashi says. “We wanted to capture that warmth but elevate it by adding luxurious ingredients such as uni and ikura (sea urchin and salmon roe).”

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Truffle Fried Rice

Everyone knows fried rice. But at RYLA the chefs came up with a signature twist. “We created this when we were conceptualizing the restaurant, and it’s been on the menu ever since,” says Chef Ray. Adding truffles not only elevates the dish, but also lends a wonderful earthy umami aspect to an already umami-packed base of Kikkoman®️ Soy Sauce and butter.  

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Grilled Japanese A5 Wagyu with Ponzu

This dish was inspired by a traditional izakaya dish called beef tataki that features slices of seared steak. “Instead of using regular beef we went for the best quality A5 wagyu strip loin, says Chef Ray. “The fatty texture of the wagyu melts in your mouth, and the acidity from the Kikkoman®️ Ponzu Citrus Seasoned Dressing & Sauce really compliments the dish and cuts through the fattiness.”

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Calamansi-Infused Soy Sauce

Hayashi and Hetlinger make their own signature infused soy sauces to go with their Japanese sashimi by steeping local seasonal ingredients in Kikkoman®️ Soy Sauce. “We’ve used tomatoes in the summer, mushrooms in the winter, and we especially love California citrus like bergamot and calamansi that give the soy sauce an acidic pop.”


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