World Chefs: Aliya LeeKong adopts global flavors for home kitchens

Tue Jul 1, 2014 5:07am EDT
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By Richard Leong

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Aliya LeeKong hopes to inspire American home cooks with her interpretations of dishes from around the world in her debut cookbook "Exotic Table."

A former investment banker of Indo-Pakistani and Tanzanian heritage, LeeKong was the culinary creative director at Junoon, the Michelin-star Indian restaurant in New York City until the start of this year.

The book includes 100 recipes that span the globe from mandazis from East Africa, which are similar to doughnuts, to feijoada, a bean and meat stew that is considered Brazil's national dish, and Korean-style barbecue chicken.

The 36-year-old, who was born in Syracuse, New York, spoke to Reuters about her passion for travel and her career change.

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

A: This book is an culmination of years and years of cooking, learning from different cultures and incorporating my culture. In the 80s, my mom would be putting chicken peas and tahini in a food processor to make hummus. Now it’s a ubiquitous thing. What constitutes American food is so different now.

Q: What are some of the dishes you grew up eating at home?

A: From my mom's side, we eat more typical Indo-Pakistani, so there was dal and lentil. There is this rice dish called pulao that has slow-cooked beef with rice and spices, which is more Pakistani than Indian. We did different types of curries. On my father side, the interesting thing about the food from Tanzania and Kenya, which is the Creole (food) of Africa, is that you are taking Indian spices and dishes that came over and you combine them with all the indigenous ingredients.   Continued...

Heirloom Tomato Galettes with Urfa Chilies, Mint and Ricotta Salata, a dish that appears in chef Aliya LeeKong's first cookbook "Exotic Tables", is shown in this handout photo taken August 14, 2012 and provided by LeeKong on June 30, 2014.      REUTERS/Aliya LeeKong/Handout via Reuters