Where do chefs go and, more importantly, where do they love to eat? In Resy Regulars, we ask Resy chefs to tell us where they’re regulars.
In this edition, we’re chatting with Ayesha Nurdjaja, partner and chef of Mediterranean hot spots, Shuka, which opened in 2017 in Soho, and Shukette, which debuted in 2021 in Chelsea. At Shukette, especially, she says, “you feel like you’re part of a party all night long.”
That translates to her preferred style of dining, and cooking, too. At Shukette, Nurdjaja serves lots of small plates inspired by the Middle East and Mediterranean — breads and dips that break the rules of coursed meals and speak to what she terms a “rip-and-dip” style. “The fact that you get to cook for someone, and hopefully the food speaks to them and maybe on some level, it touches them in a way,” she notes, is what drives her. “It’s an evolution for you to have your own point of view in cooking,” she adds.
Nurdjaja’s cooking journey has taken her from her childhood home in Gravesend, Brooklyn, where she grew up with her Italian mom and her Indonesian dad, a chef on a gas carrier ship between the U.S. and Asia, both of whom inspired her to broaden her culinary tastes and preferences. “We never had peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches,” Nurdjaja notes, recalling how her mom would often riff on traditional Italian dishes while her dad would be cooking a feast of whole fish and soup early in the mornings.
Later, she enrolled in the Institute of Culinary Education and worked in restaurants that included Felidia, Bar Artisanal, Picholine, and A Voce. Eventually, she formed a lasting collaboration with restaurateurs Vicki Freeman and Marc Meyer with Shuka. It wasn’t until she opened Shukette, however, that she finally felt a sense of “freeness” or freedom when it came to choosing plates, music, setting the service tone, and crafting a menu that represents her fully.
Similarly, on her days off, Nurdjaja seeks out a freeform, “rip-and-dip” style of eating. “I like a menu where I don’t have to have an appetizer and entree and dessert. I want to taste five or six or seven or 10 things because I just love food. And you know, I eat at a restaurant as if I’m never gonna go back there.” Here are a few of her favorites, in her own words: