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3-Course Interview: Alon Shaya 

Scott Gold talks with the Domenica man, whose Hanukkah menu has become a holiday staple

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Photo by Scott Gold

Besh Restaurant Group's four-year-old rustic Italian eatery, Domenica (123 Baronne St., 504-648-6020; www.domenicarestaurant.com), is known for wood-fired pizza, house charcuterie and handmade pastas, among other Italian specialties. Israeli-born, Philadelphia-raised chef Alon Shaya enjoys putting together special menus for Jewish holidays. Wednesday, Nov. 27 through Thursday, Dec. 5, Domenica offers a three-course menu to celebrate Hanukkah.

What inspired you to combine traditional Jewish food with Italian cuisine?

Shaya: We've been serving Jewish food since the first year we were open. I love cooking the foods I'm passionate about. Every chef wants to cook the foods they grew up with in one way or another. I grew up cooking jelly doughnuts with my mom as a kid, and making latkes, and as I've grown as a chef, I've learned to appreciate those things from a culinary standpoint. I really try to bring together my Jewish heritage, living in the South and Italian food. And I think the menu at Domenica reflects that.

You often draw inspiration for these menus from your travels. How is that reflected in this year's menu?

S: This year, one of our courses includes za'atar biscuits. Za'atar is a combination of sumac, sesame seeds, thyme and oregano. On my last visit to Israel, I visited a Druze village and I was really impressed with their cooking. We ate lunch at a home and they made the most amazing food. And they put mint in their za'atar as well, which is unique. I actually brought some za'atar back from one of the spice markets in Israel. We're going to use our wood-burning oven to make baba ghanoush, and we're going to serve it with these za'atar biscuits.

  This year we're adding cured salmon to the latkes, which was inspired by a recent trip to Alaska. I went salmon fishing out there with my wife, and I brought back all this salmon and cured it. So I just thought it would be such a good addition to the dish. It's like a gravlax: I cure it with salt and brown sugar, orange zest and thyme. It only takes 48 hours to get to the flavor and consistency that I like. We cure it overnight and dry it for 36 hours after that.

There's a special lamb dish this year as well. Where did that come from?

S: Chef Michael Solomonov does this ridiculously good pomegranate-glazed lamb shoulder at his restaurant, Zahav, in Philadelphia. When he was in town for the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, we did that dish for our main course at a dinner, and everybody went nuts for it. I went to Israel with Michael, and I'm really inspired by how he incorporates his heritage into his food. So as an ode to him, I'm adding that to our Hanukkah menu by using the lamb shank with pomegranate tabbouleh, fresh chilis and whole grain polenta. I think that's part of what makes cooking so special: I can get inspired by my friends and take the foods they do so well and figure out a way to incorporate it into what I do. I think it's one of the greatest forms of flattery. — SCOTT GOLD

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