Israeli and creole cuisines are not typically found together. Yet New Orleans-based chef Alon Shaya has crafted something unique and delicious by combining the two distinct flavors — like in his za’atar-fried chicken and curried sweet potato and leek pie — garnering international accolades (Yotam Ottolenghi is a fan) and two James Beard awards. Some of the recipes in his new cookbook, Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel, replicate dishes made in Shaya, his eponymous restaurant in New Orleans.
“My favorite way to showcase the foundation of what makes Israeli food so important to me is with little salads and spreads that are meant to be passed around and shared at the table,” Shaya says. “Pita bread, hummus, salatim, Moroccan carrots, beets with tahini. I included many of these recipes in the book, so readers can create that dining experience for their guests at home.”
As is the case with many current cookbooks, Shaya is more than just recipes. It can be described as part memoir, with Shaya detailing aspects of his life that led him to become a chef.
“One day when I was in first grade, living in America, I came home from school, and, when I opened the front door, the aroma of fire-roasted vegetables hit me,” he says. “I knew right away my grandmother was in the kitchen cooking lutenitsa” — a dish of fire-roasted red peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant that is featured in Shaya. “I ran in to help her and never left the stove.”
Alon Shaya discusses his book at the Stroum JCC on March 24 at 8:30 p.m. Creole cocktail hour with a Louisiana DJ and dancing starts at 7:30. The $15 ticket includes a cocktail; $35 includes a cocktail as well as a book. All ages; non-alcoholic cocktails available. sjcc.org