The Flatiron area of Manhattan, from Broadway due north of Union Square to 25th Street, with Park Avenue South to the east and Broadway to the west, is a well traveled destination for sightseeing, fine elegant dining, and some of the most striking examples of beaux-arts architecture.
You must check out the amazing edifice that is the Flatiron Building, located at 22nd Street at Broadway and Fifth Avenue. Completed in 1902, it was deemed as one of the tallest buildings in New York City at that time.
Just steps away from the famed Flatiron Building is a most stunning restaurant called Junoon http://www.junoonnyc.com 212-490-2100.
Behind the stunning decor of rich woods and lit lanterns is Aliya LeeKong, Chef and Chief Culinary Director.
Ms. LeeKong says she has cooked all her life, as she agrees food begins at home. Born into a multi-cultural family, her Mother Indo-Pakistani and Father Tanzanian, she states that it is family and timing that make memories indelible.
It is the many experiences growing up in a richly cultural household that has given Ms. LeeKong the uncanny ability to tantalize the pallet with rich sauces, herbs and other flavors in her exquisite dishes.
At Junoon, she has taken her experiences and infuses various techniques, giving her clientele the delicate balances of seasonality, richness and notes of old world India, while also bedazzling the western palette.
Ms. LeeKong goes on to say that Indian fine dining has not always been popular, but what makes the cooking at Junoon unique is the ingredient selections, culinary techniques, and seasonality – which differentiate themselves in plating, quality and flavors.
Junoon has old world chefs keeping up with indian techniques and flavor traditions and French-trained chefs whose focus may be on rich sauces, for example. It is agreed these chefs come together in a symphony of sauces, plating, styling and other accoutrements. This really makes Junoon stand out, in addition to their list of over 700 wines – one of the largest collections in the country !
Ms. LeeKong has a new cookbook coming out in October, 2013 called “Exotic Table”, published by Adams Media/S&W Media.
In it she says the recipes will be quite different from what she artistically dreams up in the kitchen at Junoon. She says she takes what I coin a "familial palette" approach, which allows her to take a familiar recipe and play with various techniques and blends of richness and flavors.
Influenced by family and her many travels to lands near and far, Aliya LeeKong has mastered her ability to morph recipes due to her vast exposure to many cultures, thus creating new recipes that can easily add excitement to any “macaroni and cheese” dish.
When asked “Do you fuse cultures in your recipes?” she responded by saying, “Cuisine in a given country is always an amalgamation of different cultures. The same is true of American."
Ms. LeeKong says she always wanted to write cookbooks. Her blog and world travels, as well as working in various restaurants have further inspired her to write this and undoubtedly future cookbooks.
Her mentors include Walter D'Rozario, who introduced her to Junoon approximately two years ago. She is inspired by his masterful “old world Indian cooking style, as well as his open-mindedness to try new things”.
Something tells me we have not heard the last of this pioneering chef and amazing home cook – I can tell you that her spirit, incredible enthusiasm and warmness during an interview adds to my interest in her cooking style and makes me want to buy her upcoming cookbook, “Exotic Table”.
Stay tuned, Folks ! More interviews to come - send me any questions or comments for Chef LeeKong or myself ! Bon Appetit ! - RPS