Food often tells a story about who we are and where we come from. For Alon Shaya (chef/owner of Saba in New Orleans and Safta in Denver, Colorado), food has been a powerful force throughout his life, shaping some of his earliest memories and inspiring his path to culinary stardom.
In his debut cookbook, Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel (Alfred A. Knopf, 2018), Alon takes readers through his culinary journey from his childhood in Israel and in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to his apprenticeship in Italy to his work in New Orleans and all the moments in between. More than a cookbook, it is a collection of short stories about his life, with recipes inspired by those stories.
“I’ve always wanted to compile my life story with food in one central place,” he says. “For me, food has always been that kind of connector between all of the moments in my life.”
Each chapter represents a different period in his life, giving a glimpse into the experiences and cuisines that shaped Alon into the chef he is today. Recipes like Hungarian Paprikash and Peach and Mascarpone Hamantashen are inspired by his upbringing, while Blackberry Torta della Nonna represents a memory from his time in Italy. He adds his own spin on New Orleans dishes and ingredients with dishes like Roasted Speckled Trout with Tahini and Pine Nuts and Za’atar Fried Chicken.
Alon’s memories are described in such detail that the reader can practically smell the lutenitsa (roasted peppers and eggplants) his Israeli grandmother made during visits to Philadelphia or taste the salami that inspired him to learn the art of charcuterie while apprenticing in the Italian Alps. He hopes that his stories will inspire readers to reflect back on moments in their lives that have been touched by food and cook one of his recipes or a meaningful dish of their own.
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- ½ clove garlic, crushed
- ¼ cup raw tahini
- 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 3 tablespoons ice water, plus more as needed
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1½ to 2 pounds skinless trout fillets
- 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ¼ cup seafood stock
- ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
- 5 to 6 fresh mint leaves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon lightly packed fresh parsley leaves, chopped
- Lemon slices, to serve
- In a nonreactive bowl, combine lemon juice and garlic. Let stand for at least 20 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 400°.
- Strain lemon juice through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding solids. In a large bowl, beat lemon juice, tahini, and ¼ teaspoon salt with a mixer at medium speed until combined. (Mixture will have a smooth, thick consistency.) Slowly add 3 tablespoons ice water, and beat at high speed until smooth. (Mixture may seize or look curdled, but will eventually smooth out to a thick mousse. If it doesn’t, add more water, ½ tablespoon at a time.) Set aside.
- Spread 2 tablespoons oil onto a rimmed baking sheet. Arrange fillets side by side on prepared pan, and drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, coriander, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt.
- Roast until fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork, 8 to 10 minutes. Gently transfer fish to a serving plate.
- In a small saucepan, whisk together tahini mixture and stock. Cook over low heat just until sauce is warm. Pour tahini sauce over fish. Serve with pine nuts, mint, cilantro, parsley, and lemon slices. Serve immediately.