It’s Saba Time: An Interview with Alon Shaya

Q: What are two words that best describe your food?

A: “Simple and comforting”

At the end of April, all of New Orleans will be rushing to their phones and computers in an attempt to secure a reservation at Alon Shaya’s new restaurant, Saba. “Saba” translates to grandfather in Hebrew, which is fitting because the restaurant will serve a modern take on Israeli cuisine. Naturally, every grandfather needs a grandmother, so Shaya is also opening Safta in Denver, Colorado.

Alon Shaya has been nominated for five James Beard Awards and was named “Best Chef of the South” in 2015 when he was working at a local Italian favorite, Domenica. He is celebrated as one of the most influential members of the Jewish American community and continues to lead by creating spaces where everyone can enjoy the delicacies of Israel. The restaurant, Shaya, won “Best New Restaurant” in 2016. Although he is no longer working at Shaya, a John Besh restaurant, Alon Shaya seems encouraged by his new path. He is motivated by his passionate, soulful team that undoubtedly will help him succeed in reflecting this positive and exciting energy at both Saba and Safta.

Shaya has previously opened up about John Besh, claiming that he was fired from the restaurant after speaking to a reporter about numerous cases of sexual assault by Besh. According to Eater.com, Shaya battled a lawsuit after suing Besh for the legal rights to take back his own last name but was denied his seemingly reasonable request. Many other employees have left Shaya since, most of whom will be joining Shaya on his new culinary journey.

I had the opportunity to speak to Shaya and ask him a few questions about his new restaurants. Shaya seems eager to immerse himself, along with his family and his food, deeper into communities that he has endless love and respect for. He noted that in both cities, everyone seems genuinely happy and content living there, which further inspires his work. Shaya and his wife have lived in Uptown New Orleans for fourteen years and have developed a deep passion for supporting their local community. The two of them hope to share this passion with the community of Denver, as they plan on spending quite a bit of time there once Safta opens.

Q: What is an important focus of your new restaurants that you would like people to know about?

A: “Our mission is to create a company that is safe and comfortable for everyone, whether it be dining customers or employees.”

Alon Shaya founded Pomegranate Hospitality, an organization dedicated to supporting his mission to create safe and happy environments at his restaurants, communities and everywhere in between. Their mission is “to create a space where meaningful, lasting relationships are created, community engagement prospers, and cultural differences are celebrated.” The restaurant will be located at 5757 Magazine Street, taking over the location of the soulful New Orleans favorite, Kenton’s. He shared with me that one of the main goals of the new restaurants is to enhance incorporation of local resources and community partnerships. Shaya highlighted that he “wants to support his neighbors and their crafts,” and is accomplishing this in a few different ways. Saba will have Piccolo Gelateria supply all of their gelato and Bellgarde Bakery milling all of the flour for the pita bread. He’ll also incorporate traditional local cuisine from New Orleans and Denver, respectively, by using specific vegetables and meats from local farms.

Shaya also shared a few secrets about his new restaurants and listed a few specific menu items that we can expect to see. Along with his tasty and classic hummus, salads, charcoal-roasted meats, and wood-fired pizzas, he is adding a brunch menu that will feature smoked salmon, bagels, and other yummy surprises.

Q: Are there any other cuisines you really enjoy exploring and cooking?

A: “Italian food. I love to make pizzas and pastas for my family at home.”

Shaya is currently on a book signing tour for his new cookbook, Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel. He mentioned that all of the recipes are particularly easy to make at home (especially if you’re on a college budget!!). You can find the cookbook on Amazon or various local bookstores. The book is part-cookbook and part-memoir, and Shaya opens up about his journey while simultaneously revealing the “transformative power and magic of food and cooking.”

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Q: Advice for any students or individuals that are inspired by you, and dream about being a successful chef such as yourself?

A: “Work hard, create opportunities out of anything that may happen. You can always turn it into a growing opportunity.”

Q: Some individuals might be more hesitant to follow your path/ pursue their dreams after the chaos you’ve had to go through. Can you re-encourage them and explain the situation?

A: “Everyone goes through this in life. When you’re faced with adversity in any way or challenged by a setback, you must continue to push forward, growing and improving despite it all. Never let anything knock you down.”

COVER PHOTO: Leslie Ryann McKellar Photography

One thought on “It’s Saba Time: An Interview with Alon Shaya

  1. Fascinating article. I particularly liked Shaya’s advice to Natalie’s last question. It gives students hope, even when things feel dark, and he’s clearly had to face darkness in his life. Look where he is now.

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