October 1, 2015
It can take years for a chef to create a menu that defines what he does best and loves most in the kitchen. Consider New Orleans’ Alon Shaya an overachiever.
The 2015 James Beard Award winner is a partner in the Domenica, focusing on his love and talent for Italian fare, followed by Pizza Domenica, his casual pie-centric eatery and now he’s opened Shaya, specializing in traditional Israeli dishes, many from his childhood.
“Your experience (in the kitchen) just builds up and you find yourself wanting to share more of the things you love,” Shaya said. “Because I lived in Italy and learned so much, Domenica made sense. But Shaya, well, that’s the food I knew first.”
The Tel-Aviv born, Philadelphia raised restaurateur started cooking in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother and though he may now specialize in international cuisine, living in New Orleans allows him to make world food with down-home comfort.
“I love to use items that are universal, things that breakthrough the multiple influences in any dish. That’s where the magic happens.”
Things like the perfect southern biscuit, native peppers or local crawfish. “I take the ideas I have learned from all the places I’ve been and bring them to life with the bounty of what’s right here in New Orleans.”
Recipes like oysters and dumplings with a fennel and cream oyster broth or shakshuka made with Louisiana shrimp are just two examples of why Shaya was named a “Chef to Watch” by Esquire magazine along with picking up the James Beard medal for “Best Chef: South” this year. But he’s the first to dismiss the fuss and concentrate on the content: good food.
“Sometimes the best foods are the easiest,” said Shaya. “When my wife makes me red beans and rice, it’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted.”
He credits avid reading and dining out as his way to stay creative and inspired but admits that it doesn’t take formal training to impress your friends.
“If you just make one thing really well, that’s enough,” he advised. “Take something simple like a tomato soup. Use the best ingredients, get the taste just right and make that for a whole party. If it’s done right, that’s what your friends will remember.”
Get more culinary tips from Alon Shaya during his appearance at our Saturday workshops live at this year’s Cook-Off. For a full list of chef workshops click here.