Call it deja food.
One year after a chef born in Tel Aviv and raised in Pennsylvania won America’s top foodie prize, another chef born in Tel Aviv and raised in Pennsylvania is up for America’s top foodie prize.
The James Beard Foundation nominated Alon Shaya for its Best Chef prize in the southern region. The finalists were announced Monday. Shaya, executive chef at Domenica in New Orleans, left Israel at age four and grew up in Philadelphia. He is one of five finalists for that category.
Last year, Michael Solomonov, who also left Tel Aviv at an early age and headed for Pittsburgh, won best regional chef in the mid-Atlantic category for his Philadelphia restaurant, Zahav.
Shaya is known for adding a bit of Israeli flavor to Italian dishes, particularly on Jewish holidays. He says he “spent most of his time in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother, which instilled in him a passion for cooking,” according to the biography on Domenica‘s website.
Last summer, Shaya and three other New Orleans chefs — Shaya’s business partner John Besh, Jacques Leonardi, and David Slater — came to Israel as part of a Jewish Agency program, Partnership 2Gether. They cooked meals for IDF soldiers at an army base — Shaya was in charge of dessert, Haaretz reported, for which he made individual-sized almond cakes — and soaked up the local flavors and culture. They also met with Israeli chefs and prepared a Shabbat meal in Rosh Ha’ayin, New Orleans’s sister city.
Shaya, who studied at the Culinary Institute of America, worked in Las Vegas at the Rio Hotel and Casino before he began to work with Besh, co-owner of Domenica, and Octavio Mantilla, its general manager. He was also nominated as Food & Wine’s Best New Chef in his region.