Israel-born chef wins America’s top foodie prize

Alon Shaya, 37, of the Domenica restaurant in New Orleans, takes home James Beard award on fourth try

Chef Alon Shaya (photo credit: Besh Restaurant Group/via JTA)
Chef Alon Shaya (photo credit: Besh Restaurant Group/via JTA)

The James Beard Foundation on Tuesday awarded Israeli-born chef Alon Shaya with America’s top food prize, naming him Best Chef in the southern region for 2015, following three consecutive years he had been nominated as a finalist in the category but ultimately failed to win the prestigious award.

Shaya, executive chef at Domenica in New Orleans — a restaurant he opened in 2009 with John Besh — left Israel at age four and grew up in Philadelphia.

The ex-Tel Avivian cook 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 a biography featured on Domenica‘s website.

Dana Cowin, the editor-in-chief of the prestigious Food & Wine magazine, named Domenica as one of her top restaurants of 2012. In the same year, New Orleans Magazine honored Shaya as “Chef of the Year” as well. Domenica is regularly awarded “Best Hotel Restaurant” by Gambit Weekly and appears as a Top Ten restaurant in the Times-Picayune’s Dining Guide.

Shaya, 37, 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.

His newly opened restaurant Shaya, which offers an Israeli-inspired menu using local New Orleans ingredients, has been drawing crowds every night.

The win for Shaya is the second major culinary award for Israelis abroad recently.

On Wednesday, The Veuve Clicquot GQ Food and Drink Awards named restaurant Palomar, owned by Jerusalem’s Assaf Granit, as the best in Britain.

Granit is known in Israel for his Machaneyuda restaurant in the capital’s Mahane Yehuda outdoor market.

JTA contributed to this report.

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