Meet (And Read) Shaya

Filed under: Cookbooks,Recipes , Tags: , , — Author: Caron Golden , August 5, 2019

Do you read cookbooks? I don’t mean simply dipping into them for recipes. I mean really reading them. Because if your idea of a perfect evening or weekend is settling in with a cup of tea or glass of wine and a good cookbook–and you’re curious about how Israeli and American Southern food interconnect–then you’ll enjoy “Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel” by Alon Shaya.

Shaya has won two James Beard awards for his restaurants Shaya, Domenica, and Pizza Domenica in New Orleans. He was born in Tel Aviv to parents originally from Bulgaria (mom) and Romania (dad). But at age four his mother moved his older sister Anit and him to Philadelphia to reunite with his father, who had moved to the U.S. years before. The marriage broke up and Shaya was left to mostly fend for himself.

“Shaya” is a memoir/cookbook that traces his life through food. The sense of family he gained from his maternal grandparents–and the food his safta (grandmother) made for him when they visited from Israel, starting with Lutenitsa (a dish of roasted red peppers and eggplant). The first dish he made (hamantashen). Finding himself in a home ec class with the teacher of every student’s dreams and making Linguine and Clams “Carbonara.” Landing at the CIA, then going out to Vegas to work in a casino, and eventually New Orleans, where he would settle. The recipes in each chapter, including Chilled Yogurt Soup with Crushed Walnuts, Mom’s Leek Patties with Lutenitsa, Pan-Seared Yellowfin Tuna with Harissa, and Malai with Strawberries, are connected to these memories that eventually take us through the trauma of Hurricane Katrina, when he worked for chef John Besh, to Italy and Israel, and then back to New Orleans.

Because, once upon a time, I worked in publishing in New York I have a habit of reading the acknowledgments first in books. And I knew I’d be smitten by this book with the story he tells there in praise of his collaborator Tina Antolini. He initially showed her some stories he’d written and she sent him off to read one of her favorite cookbooks, “Home Cooking” by Laurie Colwin because his writing reminded her of the narrative form Laurie used in her book. Then, he worked with editor Vicky Wilson, a legendary Knopf editor, whose sister I worked with back in the day at The William Morris Agency. And Wilson told Shaya that the only cookbook she’d ever published was “Home Cooking.” That was kismet for him but why would that matter to me? Because back then I was friends with Laurie, who was the godmother to my boss’s daughter. Laurie passed away quite young, but “Home Cooking” and “Home Cooking II” as well as novels and tons of fabulous short stories are some of my favorite reading dating back to my early 20s.

So, there’s that connection. But even if that weren’t there, I’d still encourage you to get this book. Shaya is a terrific storyteller and his story is unusual. So are the recipes, and that’s part of their charm. Are they Jewish? (His Kugel in Crisis features bacon.) Are they Southern? Or Italian? Or Israeli? You’ll have to read the book to learn how he pulls together all these traditions and flavors. All I can say is that I’m looking forward to trying his recipes, especially since I had the great good fortune of interviewing him for an event in San Diego recently.

Do you read cookbooks or dip into them? What’s your favorite go-to or your happiest surprise on the page?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

Be Sociable, Share!
Caron Golden

About 

Founder of premier organization of personal chefs inspires students to follow their dreams of culinary entrepreneurship.

Candy Wallace, executive director of the American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA), today was recognized by Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies as its 33rd Distinguished Guest Chef.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment