Top Chef Interviews
Aliya LeeKong

Aliya LeeKong

Posted: February 2012 | Make a Comment
Chef Aliya: LeeKong

Aliya LeeKong

Have you always wanted to ask your favorite chef what they love to eat when they?re at home? Or perhaps what they think the next big food or dining trend will be? Look no further than this exclusive series of chef interviews by JustLuxe. So read on, as we bring you these answers and more ? direct from the culinary masters themselves. Some of the most famous names in the industry, including legendary Michelin-starred chefs, have divulged exciting insider information and personal stories of their journey to the top just for our readers.

Restaurant: Junoon
Location: New York
Type of Cuisine: Exotic American
Accolades: Junoon received a Michelin Star in 2011

JustLuxe: At what point in your life did you decide to become a chef? What influenced you to do so?

Aliya: My earliest cooking memories are as a little girl with my mom on Sundays. She was a working mother so Sunday was prep-for-the-week day. It represented joy, an escape from the norm, and an intimate connection for me that carried into my adult life; it became my refuge from a long day at work. After a trip to South Africa years ago where I learned some incredible cultural dishes, I came back home and put my own spin on them. I think that was the inception ? when I realized my culinary perspective and passion were unique and that I wanted to live each day being this passionate about what I did professionally.

JustLuxe: If you could give a word of advice to an aspiring chef, what would you say?

Aliya: Go work in a kitchen first! Stage at a restaurant or intern with a catering company ? wherever you see yourself long-term. Before you decide to invest time and money into culinary school, you should see if this is the career for you. Oftentimes, people have a glamorized view of what it means to really work in a kitchen, and I see a ton of people career-switch out of the kitchen after having gone through culinary school. It?s likely passion for cooking that leads someone to aspire to be a chef. Make sure that passion still exists when there it?s no longer something you do just for fun.

JustLuxe: Where do you get inspiration for the design of your dishes and plating?

Aliya: It?s funny, I think the most rustic food, something that would come out of grandma?s kitchen, is the most beautiful! I love the food to speak for itself and be at its most natural on the plate. Being a chef at an Indian restaurant, color is also an incredibly important part of the cultural tradition. For many, it?s a measure of authenticity, and although I focus more on the modern items geared towards the Western palate, I still keep that in mind as I design a dish.

JustLuxe: What do you predict as the next big trend in cooking and/or the restaurant industry?

Aliya: I believe that, rather than focus on regional cuisines, people will start cooking more from their individual, cultural perspective. And I think that will be well-received (a la David Chang). It?s not about this outdated concept of ?fusion? ? it?s really about how people eat, what influenced them growing up, what ingredients are part of their vernacular. I?m speaking from an American perspective, how the cultural mosaic will change what American food means. I guess I have to believe this because it?s how I myself cook!

JustLuxe: Which season do you look forward to the most for its ingredients?

Aliya: Summer has to be my favorite season. Summer fruit is just so incredible ? stone fruits and berry picking. For the vegetables, corn, rhubarb, beautiful peppers and hot chilies, summer squash and zucchini blossoms, sweet, heirloom tomatoes ? summer has me dreaming in the market.

JustLuxe: What places or cities in the world have influenced your cooking the most?

Aliya: That?s hard to nail down. I have travelled a lot over the years (more than 30 countries in the past 10), and I am always absorbing what, from a culinary perspective, is relevant, interesting, or just delicious. But the places that pull at my heart are the cultural crossroads, where different ethnicities, religions and cultures have lived side-by-side and dishes have bled together so that the origin has several roots ? Turkey, Peru, Capetown, Goa, Brazil and, of course, Brooklyn.

JustLuxe: In your opinion, what innovation has recently influenced the restaurant industry in a significant way?

Aliya: The invention of the foodie! The market, itself, has changed: people are smarter and savvier about foods, ingredients, what?s in season and demand a higher quality. Restaurants and chefs have had to react and evolve to meet those demands.

JustLuxe: What is your favorite dish to prepare at home as opposed to the plate you enjoy preparing in the kitchen?

Aliya: At home, I love long, loving, one-pot cooking. I tend to put an exotic edge on most of my foods, but I can?t escape classic, bold braised short ribs . All of my friends have had them at one point or another at my place and sometimes request them!

JustLuxe: Besides gastronomy, what other passions do you have?

Aliya: Well, travel is probably my biggest passion after food, though they always go hand in hand. I love that feeling on a plane when you know you?re going to experience, touch, see, smell something you never have before. I also love music and dance and being in the city is incredible for both. Recently, I stayed on a farm, did some horseback riding and fell in love, so I?m currently on the hunt for equestrian lessons?

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Photo Credit: Noah Fecks


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