Chef Ayesha Nurdjaja
2022 James Bear Award Finalist Nominee, (Best Chef: New York State) Ayesha Nurdjaja is the executive chef at Shuka, Vicki Freeman and Marc Meyer’s Eastern Mediterranean restaurant in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood, where she serves a menu of provocative dishes that highlight local, seasonal ingredients.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Ayesha is the daughter of an Indonesian father and Italian mother. Growing up, she was always inspired by her father’s cooking and his use of exotic flavors, but her entrepreneurial spirit first lead her to pursue a business degree at Pace University. After graduating in 2000, she found herself hosting dinner parties for friends and realized that food is where her true passion lies, so she enrolled at the Institute of Culinary Education.
Ayesha graduated from culinary school in 2006 and, after watching chef Lidia Bastianich cook on PBS, walked into Lidia’s restaurant, Felidia, and asked for a job. They brought her on as a line cook and she worked her way up the ranks to become sous chef. Since then, Ayesha has helped lead the kitchen teams at Bar Artisanal and Michelin-starred Picholine under chef Terrance Brennan, and at Michelin-starred A Voce under chef Missy Robbins. She also spent time as executive chef at Il Bordello and most recently at Brooklyn neighborhood favorite Red Gravy, where for three years she offered her take on modern southern Italian cuisine.
In 2015, Ayesha met with restaurateurs Vicki Freeman and Marc Meyer, who were looking for a new chef at their restaurant Hundred Acres. Ayesha was drawn to their passion for creating a welcoming place with honest cooking and they hit it off immediately. Together, they created Shuka, opening in September 2017. At Shuka, Ayesha is excited about her new menu that draws on the rustic, vibrant flavors found throughout Italy, Morocco and Tunisia. Dishes such as Whipped Feta + Pistachio, Kefti + Egg Tagine with spiced lamb meatballs, tomato, and poached egg, and Fattoush Salad with halloumi and toasted pita chips showcase her penchant for updating classic dishes with flavorful ingredients.
When she’s not in the kitchen, Ayesha enjoys a nice glass of scotch, traveling everywhere from the Amalfi Coast to the Aegean Sea and discovering antique pieces for her ever-expanding jewelry collection.