Chef Ayesha Nurdjaja of Shuka, the Eastern Mediterranean restaurant in SoHo, developed her love for Middle Eastern food growing up in Gravesend, Brooklyn.
Her Mom was Italian. Her Dad, also a chef, was Indonesian. Her Grandmother lived in Cobble Hill and would take Nurdjaja on excursions to Middle Eastern famous spots like Sahadi's and Damascus on nearby Atlantic Avenue.
What You Need To Know
- Shuka is an Eastern Mediterranean restaurant on MacDougal Street in SoHo
- Chef Owner Ayesha Nurdjaja developed her love for Middle Eastern food growing up in Gravesend, Brooklyn
- Nurdjaja and her Bowery Group Partner have offered counsel to colleagues in the business, to help them make it through
- Nurdjaja says you have to be resilient to be in the restaurant business
"I grew up always with spices,” said Nurdjaja, who added “my Mom would cook Italian food and my Dad would cook Indonesian food, so somewhere between red chili flake and turmeric, I think my love of Middle Eastern food was born."
Chef Nurdjaja says Shuka, which is part of the Bowery Restaurant Group, is in the same boat as other eateries around town trying to stay open during the pandemic. When Shuka was closed for months in the spring and early summer, she admits to wondering what the future would hold.
"Is the life of a chef going to be one, and will I have a kitchen to go back to,” said Nurdjaja, who noted “you have a responsibility to your staff and all the people that support you, it just became really overwhelming pressure and anxiety."
Not only has Shuka stayed open, with outdoor dining, takeout and delivery, but Nurdjaja and Bowery Group Partner Vicki Freeman have offered counsel to colleagues in the business, to help them make it through all of this too.
"I think there is something with having dealt with blackouts and hurricanes and all this stuff that helped, this much, but nothing's been like this,” said Freeman. Both said it’s not about competition, they want all restaurants to survive and ones that closed to reopen.
Nurdjaja says you have to be resilient to be in the restaurant business, and she taps into the same strength now, as when she walked into famed chef Lidia Bastianich's restaurant Felidia for a job after her culinary training. She attributes the attitude to her Brooklyn upbringing.
“Yeah absolutely, that's the Gravesend way,” said Nurdjaja, who advised “You only have two choices without asking a question right? Yes or no. So sometimes you have to make your own waves in life."