Aliya LeeKong is a professional home cook. She came up with this label because, although she's a classically trained chef, has spent time in the kitchens of Jean Georges, Devi, and Per Se and is now a Chef and Culinary Creative Director at Junoon in New York City, her love of cooking begins in the home -- creating surprising and delicious dishes for family and friends.
Aliya grew up with a multi-cultural upbringing -- the food was a confluence of Indian, Pakistani, and East-African flavors, some of which to this day don’t exist on the restaurant scene and can only be had by going to the houses of members of her small ethnic community. She enjoys journeying in other cultures through food and has learned from working in various ethnic restaurants as well as informally through her travel experiences. Her passion for international home cooking has led her to the houses of family members and friends where they have schooled Aliya in many of the undocumented traditions -- of special note are the invaluable lessons in West Indian cuisine taught to her by her husband’s Aunt Cherry in Port of Spain, Trinidad. You are as likely to find her cooking at a renowned New York eatery as at a family’s home in Cape Town or a small Ethiopian restaurant in Brooklyn with resident chef “Mama.”
Her cooking style is unhesitatingly “American,” the definition of which has everything to do with the way she grew up. Her food signifies that “American” cuisine is subject to interpretation, to personal reinvention, growing and evolving with the country’s increasing diversity. She is the first generation of her family born in the U.S., but she is undeniably tied to the exotic flavors that shaped Aliya as a child and develop her as an adult. Her food honors her American sensibilities and simultaneously pays homage to the flavors and traditions of a variety of ethnicities. She's taking the broader mosaic of her experiences to show cooks how to incorporate the flavors of her childhood, experiences and travels into everyday cooking. Aliya is passionate about bringing these spices, ingredients and traditions into modern American cuisine and creating what she calls “an exotic table.”
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