Palestinian-American chef Mona Leena is joining the Kitchen at Dyafa in Oakland as a consultant, picking up where Dyafa’s previous consulting chef, Reem Assil, left off. Leena, who has worked at Jardiniere, Serpentine, and Roka Akor, was last running pop-ups Fallaha and Shuk Shuka. “I am excited to share my knowledge of Palestine’s food, culture, ingredients and rich history with the Dyafa team,” the chef wrote in an announcement on Instagram shared by the restaurant.
Chef Daniel Patterson (Coi) and his Alta Group opened Dyafa in Jack London Square last Spring, taking over the former home of his restaurant Haven. The project showcased Palestinian and Syrian food from chef Reem Assil, of Fruitvale’s popular bakery Reem’s California.
But in May, Assil made clear that her relationship with Dyafa was just a temporary one — a consulting role that she would leave in August. “I need to focus on projects where I have operating control and can prioritize my values,” Assil told Eater SF in May. That news appeared another blow to the Alta Group, whose relationships with other chefs of color — Nigel Jones of Kaya and Heena Patel of Besharam — had also fractured.
Leena is clear that her role is a consulting one, but she writes that she is eager to extend her knowledge to Dyafa. “Arabic food is extremely savory, rustic, and homey; at the same time it is complex and layered,” she writes. “I believe that my fine-dining experience and Palestinian upbringing will bridge the gap.”
Update, August 9: In a statement to Eater SF, chef Leena clarifies that her consulting role is not temporary, but permanent. “Part of the reason why I’m excited to work with Dyafa is that it is such an amazing restaurant as it stands,” Leena writes. “My role will be more refinement, education, and modernizing the menu a bit celebrating California’s bounty more, having a more seasonally-driven menu, and bringing in different cuisines to influence/develop a little more beyond simply traditional Palestinian fare.”
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Finally, I can share with you all the exciting news I've been sitting on! My personal philosophy on life is that the more we build connections between each other, the more similarities we will find, as opposed to focusing on the differences that divide us. I am excited to share my knowledge of Palestine's food, culture, ingredients and rich history with the Dyafa team. I hope that this will allow them to feel even more empowered and excited to celebrate and share their love and knowledge of Palestinian culture to guests and between each other. Arabic food is extremely savory, rustic, and homey; at the same time it is complex and layered. I believe that my fine-dining experience and Palestinian upbringing will bridge the gap. The last year I've devoted my culinary "being" to elevating Palestinian food via my pop up, Fallaha Dining, roughly translated to "Countrywoman" Dining. It embodies my elevated vision for Palestinian food, and Dyafa will offer me a platform to continue to explore and develop this vision. I am humbled, excited and honored to consult on my culture's cuisine for @dyafaoakland and this amazing restaurant group!
Eater SF has reached out to the restaurant for further details and will add updates accordingly.