Aliya LeeKong is a Chef, Cookbook Author, Television Personality and Mother with a passion for bringing global and socially conscious foods, spices, and traditions into everyday cooking and eating.
A first generation American whose parents are Tanzanian and Indo-Pakistani immigrants, Aliya’s insight into cooking was always through a lens that layered culture upon culture. “My parents spoke different languages so I was never quite sure to which side of my family a particular dish or word belonged, but everything about food was celebratory and joyful in my home. The idea that cultures can blend with one another to create amazing food is one that is instinctive to me,” she says. Aliya’s cooking style is truly “American” in the sense that it embodies personal reinvention and speaks to the country’s increasing diversity and multiculturalism.
Aliya earned degrees from both Brown University and Columbia University before deciding to be a chef. She then studied at the International Culinary Center in New York and honed her skills by staging and working on the line at such reputable restaurants as New York City’s Jean Georges, Devi, and Per Se as well as at a number of small ethnic restaurants in and around the city. She most recently and prominently served as Chef and Culinary Creative Director of the renowned Indian restaurant Junoon, also in Manhattan.
Her passion for global home cooking has led her to travel extensively, visiting over 30 countries in the last 10 years alone (and counting…) in what she considers to be her ongoing culinary grad school. She credits her breadth of knowledge across cuisines to the numerous friends, families, cooks and chefs who have opened their homes, hearts and kitchens to teach her some of the more undocumented cooking traditions – her best lessons came from being in new countries where she convinced home cooks to allow her to spend time with them in their kitchens to learn their indigenous techniques, those that she would never have learned or heard of in a book. First and foremost an entertainer, Aliya spends the better part of her free time in the kitchen, cooking for friends and testing recipes that are inspired by her travels and her family’s heritage – her own and her husband’s, whose family is from Trinidad by way of Venezuela, Spain and China.
Both her multicultural upbringing and her world travels not only greatly inspire Aliya’s cooking but also inform her awareness of global issues as related to food and food security, women’s rights and roles, and children’s education. Aliya has a strong voice on subjects as diverse as food waste, food education and female empowerment in and beyond the hospitality industry. As a new mother, she is also passionate about translating her maternal experiences into culinary adventures in the kitchen such as creating all-natural baby food and exposing her daughter’s palate to international flavors.
Aliya introduced her first cookbook, Exotic Table - Flavors, Inspiration, and Recipes from Around the World – to Your Kitchen, in 2013 and received nationwide acclaim for making international flavors as familiar as they are exciting. Exotic Table was named “Best of the Best” by Food & Wine magazine in 2014; the prestigious award selects the top 25 cookbooks in the U.S. each year.
Additionally, in just the past year, Aliya has been a guest chef on NBC’s Today Show, a judge on Food Network shows Kitchen Casino and Beat Bobby Flay, a culinary expert on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and has been widely covered in publications like Food & Wine, Vogue India, Shape, Oprah, Eater, Food Republic and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Aliya resides in Brooklyn with her husband and baby girl.