Why he killed it in 2015: Shaya has been a force in New Orleans food for more than a decade, cooking at John Besh's acclaimed Domenica. But it's at his new, eponymous restaurant Shaya—where he blends Israeli, Italian and local influences—that he's come into his own as a chef, turning out some of the most exciting Middle Eastern plates in the U.S.
How would you describe your food? "My cooking style reflects experiences, whether it was growing up cooking and eating Israeli food with my family, living and apprenticing in kitchens and butcher shops in Italy, or getting my first taste of a great pheasant gumbo. They all were equally life changing for me and have influenced the way I cook and think about food."
What's been your biggest kitchen disaster? "The sprinkler system at Domenica went off right after a butane container exploded. So it was fire and water at the same time. We also had a full dining room with 150 people."
Favorite meal of 2015? "I camped for two days in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, at a Cajun boucherie. A group of badass Cajuns killed a calf, a lamb and a pig, and we ate every little part during those days in different Cajun preparations: backbone stew made with a dark roux; pig blood and rice was one of the best things I have ever eaten. There was a spiritual element to the weekend that helps remind me why chefs become chefs."
What's the most underrated ingredient, and how do you use it? "Tomato paste. Sauté it with garlic, olive oil, salt and parsley until it turns a deep rust color and has a roasted tomato aroma. Rub it on some toast and slap a great piece of goat cheese on it. It's killer."Next Chef