Chef to Know

Meet the Chef Behind Paul Fleming’s New PJK Neighborhood Chinese

At 27, Kayla is on her third executive chef gig in Naples—her latest at Paul Fleming's new modern Asian-American restaurant.

BY May 1, 2023
PJK Neighborhood Chinese Chef
(Photo by Anna Nguyen)

If you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere. That’s what Kayla Pfeiffer thought when she left home to pursue a degree at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Through school and after, she juggled classes and work as she honed her skills at various restaurants, including The Dutch in SoHo under chef Andrew Carmellini (the restaurant earned the top spot in The New York Times list of 10 new restaurants of 2011 for its contemporary take on American fare) and two-Michelin-starred The Roundhouse under chef Terrance Brennan in the Hudson Valley.

Make it she did: By 22, Kayla was executive chef at local chef Vincenzo Betulia’s The French Brasserie Rustique in Naples. And now, she leads the kitchen at PJK Neighborhood Chinese, the latest from P.F. Chang’s and Fleming’s steakhouse restaurateur Paul Fleming. “It’s not common to be an executive chef at the age of 22, where everyone—your line cooks, your bus or your food runners, most people—are older than you,” the now-27-year-old Kayla says. “For me, it’s a lot of observing everyone around me and reading the room, and I’ve done that my whole life.”

Seven years ago, Kayla moved to Naples with her then-partner. “I saw a lot of potential to elevate the dining scene, create something unique to this area,” she says. She remained laser-focused on her culinary career and became enmeshed here, beginning as a line cook at The French in 2016. She quickly worked her way up to executive chef and then helped Vincenzo open Bar Tulia Mercato. “He believed in me [to the point] where I could be really creative and proud to put a dish in the window,” Kayla says. “That’s what I want my cooks to do, as well.”

By the time Paul began looking for a chef for his new restaurant, Kayla had established herself as a culinary force. “She is a great leader that, with the support of her team, brings excitement and creativity to our menu,” Jody Fleming, CEO of Paul Fleming Restaurants, says. Kayla also believes food should tell a story. That’s embodied in the dirty fried rice with duck confit, kimchi, sweet soy, chili oil and poached egg, which nods to Paul’s native Louisiana. Much of the food connects to cultures or experiences outside PJK’s inviting, buzzy space, which takes in the Naples breeze from the front garage-style doors, past the sexy bar and into the lantern-dotted dining room. The chicken lettuce wraps will be familiar to those who frequent P.F. Chang’s, and the golden, crisp lobster Rangoon marries the bounty of the sea and Americanized Chinese food.

(Photo by Anna Nguyen)


Each time Kayla steps foot in the kitchen, it’s something of a homecoming. Her father owned an American restaurant and a pizza place. “As soon as [my dad] taught me how to pick up a knife, I was in there and creating on my own and cooking whenever I could,” she says. And that’s what she does every night at PJK Neighborhood Chinese: create, cook, dream. 

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