2022 Nashville Rising Star Chefs Leina Horii and Brian Lea of Kisser

2022 Nashville Rising Star Chefs Leina Horii and Brian Lea of Kisser

Nashville, TN 37203


The Kisser story began in Southern California, where Leina Horii’s parents owned a sushi restaurant. Horii pushed her inherent passion for food aside in order to study medicine and art history at New York University, while bartending on the side. But rather than going to medical school, she pursued a front of house career at local hotel restaurants, eventually becoming a manager at the Ace Hotel. Anxious to finally gain cooking experience, Horii moved back to Los Angeles and found a job at Red Medicine where she first ran into Chef Brian Lea.

Unlike Horii, Lea began cooking as a teenager at a beach-side burger spot. He joined the culinary program at Orange Coast College and not long after, became a prep cook at Charlie Palmer in Costa Mesa. When a sous chef moved on to the Bazaar by José Andrés in Los Angeles, Lea followed and worked his way up to lead line cook. Lea was on the opening team at Red Medicine before he moved to Charleston to work at Husk with Sean Brock. He followed Brock to Nashville and opened Husk’s second location as sous chef, then returned to L.A. for a job at Troi Mec, where he finally reconnected with Horii. 

Growing tired of the Los Angeles lifestyle, the now husband and wife submitted their resumes to Nashville’s Strategic Hospitality. Horii landed at The Catbird Seat as sous chef while Lea scored the executive chef role at Le Sel. The pair were then professionally reunited at Bastion, where they would later host pop-ups for their own concept, Kisser. With a brick-and-mortar location in the works, the fast casual, bento-box-centric menu features the bright, bold Japanese flavors reminiscent of Horii’s childhood.