All photos courtesy of Shuka and Shukette

Resy QuestionnaireNew York

20 Questions With Shuka and Shukette’s Ayesha Nurdjaja


Reserve a table

In the Resy Questionnaire, we play a game of 20 questions with the industry folks behind some of our favorite restaurants. What’s your most memorable restaurant experience? Your favorite food movie? What restaurant would you want to time-travel for?

In this edition, we talk to Ayesha Nurdjaja, the executive chef and partner at New York City’s acclaimed restaurant Shuka in SoHo, as well as the newly opened Shukette in Chelsea.

The Resy Questionnaire

1. Favorite thing you’ve ever cooked?

I stayed away from everyone, including family members, during the first weeks of quarantine last year. The first time that my family got together, I cooked a dish that my father used to make for us when my brother and I were little: slow-roasted lamb ribs marinated in spices and kecap manis. Kecap manis is a thick Southeast Asian condiment that is what you might expect if ketchup, soy sauce, and balsamic vinegar had a baby. It is thick, sticky, salty, and pungent. My mom made steamed rice and we fried shrimp chips. The aromas and the company took me back in time.

A spread of dishes from Nurdjaja’s newest restaurant, Shukette, which just opened in Chelsea. Photo by Clay Williams, courtesy of Shukette
A spread of dishes from Nurdjaja’s newest restaurant, Shukette, which just opened in Chelsea. Photo by Clay Williams, courtesy of Shukette

2. Kitchen tool you couldn’t live without?

A serrated paring knife and a cake tester; a microplane is close behind these two.

3. What pantry items would you bring on a desert island?

Calabrian chile paste, lemons (and a book about propagation so that I can grow lemon trees), popcorn kernels, olive oil, and Gunpowder Irish Gin.

4. Favorite places to get a slice in New York?

Pizza Wagon in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
L&B Spumoni Gardens in Gravesend, Brooklyn.
Lucali in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

5. Favorite cookbook?

How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking by Michael Psilakis and The Classic Italian Cook Book by Marcella Hazan.

6. Your drink of choice?

A Vesper.

7. Favorite food movie?

Dinner Rush, about a busy Italian restaurant in New York City.

8. Your ideal dinner party guests, dead or alive?

Anthony Bourdain and Marcella Hazan.

9. What restaurant industry person do you admire the most?

Lidia Bastianich was my first inspiration. She made the kind of food that moved me: classical recipes rooted in tradition with precise technique. She is a leader and a fabulous restaurateur. She blazed a path for women in the industry, so I walk in her footsteps.

10. The greatest restaurant experience of your life so far?

Zeerovers, a restaurant on the water in the island of Aruba. They only have two things on the menu: fried shrimp and the catch of the day, both of which are sold by the pound. You can add French fries, if you want, and they have Presidente beer that is served so cold that it verges on frozen.

11. Your greatest professional achievement?

I always dreamed of having a restaurant in New York. So, to be where I am today, having just opened my second concept — where I can lead and be inspired and face the challenges of each day without excess anxiety, where I get to play, create and interact with my guests — it is a great joy. I am pretty happy with this moment.

Ayesha Nurdjaja at Shukette. Photo by Clay Williams, courtesy of Shukette
Ayesha Nurdjaja at Shukette. Photo by Clay Williams, courtesy of Shukette

12. What single dish best describes your personality?

The lamb cumin noodles from Xi’an Famous Foods because they are exotic, complex, flavorful, and satisfying.

13. If you could go back in time, which restaurant would you dine at?

Lutèce, in its heyday.

14. Your favorite meal from childhood?

Rendang, a slow-cooked beef coconut curry that we ate with fluffy white rice.

15. Your wish for the restaurant industry?

To have fun and always remember why we do what we do. It is a privilege to cook for people, to create environments that are welcoming, and to help people celebrate the highs and soothe the lows in life. I hope that that is the driving force that moves us forward, especially now that we know how important it is to create communities for each other.

16. What do you wish you did better? What do you do well?

Better: DJ-ing. I have skillz, but would love to have mad skillz.
My best, most reliable talent is bringing humor and lots of laughs.

17. If you could eat through a city for a day, where would you go?

I would need three days, one each for Mexico City, Palermo in Italy, and Tel Aviv.

18. The one thing you can’t resist splurging on when you go out?

Champagne, of course.

19. What do you value most in restaurants?

The experience: a warm greeting, good service, full laughter.

20. It’s your last meal on earth, what are you eating?

Our traditional Thanksgiving dinner, cooked by my mom.