Chefs You Need to Know: Sileshi Alifom

Sileshi Aliform is bringing Ethiopian food to the forefront of Washington DC’s culinary scene. But before he was one of the most interesting and caring chefs of the United States capital. He was a humble Ethiopian kid trying to make a future for himself.

Aliform was born in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. While he was still a teenager, he moved to the U.S. with the intention of finishing high school going to college, and then going back to his home country. However, the 1974 Ethiopian revolution changed his plans. It was that year that a successful coup by a military regime resulted in a bloody civil war that would leave many deaths, a lot of uncertainty, and innumerable loses throughout the country.

Faced with this, Sileshi decided he had to do whatever he could to stay in the U.S. Going back home meant almost certain death. He started from the bottom, working as a dishwasher and cleaning out floors at the Marriott Hotels. Sileshi was soon given the opportunity to try his luck in the food a beverage division of the famous hotel chain. It didn’t take long for him to stand out and was promptly sent to work all over the country. In fact, he spent over a decade as a manager, and then later started working as a hotel consultant. Now, as a restaurant owner, his background in hospitality comes through in the way he cares about the comfort of his patrons.

Chefs You Need to Know: Sileshi Alifom
Chefs You Need to Know: Sileshi Alifom

In 2011, he opened his restaurant, Das Ethiopian. His years at the Marriott pushed him to focus on providing an amazing experience to his customers. Das Ethiopian isn’t just about having amazing Ethiopian food, but about the experience. Sileshi has made sure the decor is tasteful and modern, there’s always jazz music playing, the waiting staff is as accommodating and polite as they can be, and the atmosphere is always welcoming. All of this is, of course, intentional.

As Sileshi has explained, Ethiopian food is very much about sharing. It’s supposed to be a moment of connection with others and with the different textures and tastes of the ingredients. Ethiopian food is mostly eaten without utensils, and it’s not uncommon for guests at a dinner to eat directly from the chef’s mouth. Sileshi has tried to bring this kind of experience to his restaurant. Of course, he’s not hand feeding anyone, but he does make sure to personally greet his customers when he’s there.

When it comes to the food, Sileshi has focused on traditional Ethiopian recipes. For a while, he tried to make a bit of fusion Ethiopian food, but he quickly abandoned that idea and began focusing on traditional recipes while trying to make them more visually appealing. All his hard work has paid off wonderfully, Das Ethipian has a Michelin star, and Sileshi is recognized a tastemaker when it comes to Ethiopian food and D.C.’s buzzling culinary scene.