What’s a guy from Philly doing in New Orleans cooking modern Israeli food? Killing it, basically. His namesake restaurant, Shaya, won the 2016 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant, thanks to dishes such as creamy hummus topped with a lamb ragù melting in duck fat and peppery harissa, and softly charred wood-fired-to-order flatbreads.
It’s not his first time at the rodeo: In 2015 chef Shaya won the Beard for Best Chef: South for his Italian cooking at Domenica and later Pizza Domenica, where he’s been praised by patrons and publications (Esquire, Eater, Food & Wine) alike for his luscious pastas and wood-oven pizzas. It’s not such a stretch from pizza to pita, really.
A stint in Israel, cooking for troops, reconnected chef Shaya with his roots—and planted the seed for Shaya the restaurant. Each time he returned from subsequent trips, the food at Domenica became more inflected with Israeli flavors—lamb bolognese with tahini, za’atar crostini, even hummus disguised as ceci purée. It was time to give this food its own home: Shaya.
New Orleans, a place that had seemed like a mystical land to Shaya as a young cook, made its way into his cooking too. After Hurricane Katrina he prepared vats of jambalaya for volunteers out of an improvised kitchen, and at Shaya (in a truly Israeli fashion) he uses local ingredients at their peak.
Chef Shaya himself will tell you that both Israel and America are melting pots. And so it’s not so improbable that a boy from Philadelphia—who learned to cook at his Israeli grandmother’s apron-strings, polished his skills at the CIA, and was mentored by acclaimed restaurateur John Besh—would become a chef of many cuisines. What’s remarkable is that he does it all with such finesse, evident in each bite of kibbeh tartare, and each spoonful of Louisiana shrimp shakshuka.