Born in Israel and raised in Philadelphia, Alon Shaya spent most of his time in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother, and to this day he can remember the smell of roasting peppers and eggplants over an open flame. Though his maternal culinary tutors may not have hailed from Italy, the inspiration of rustic Italian cooking has remained with Shaya to this day. He translates those memories and his singular talent into the dishes at Domenica, the authentic Italian restaurant he owns with Chef John Besh. Of course, Shaya has had a little help along the way from other top chefs from posts in Las Vegas and St. Louis to Italy, where he spent a year exploring the local cuisine.
Since Shaya launched his New Orleans career, Besh has been the biggest non-familial influence on the chef's life. After Hurricane Katrina hit, Besh put Shaya up in his Slidell, Louisiana, home and later in an apartment above Restaurant August. And Besh didn't just share room and board. Under Besh's tutelage, Shaya has received a James Beard Nomination, has been recognized as a "Chef to Watch" by Esquire, and with his 2012 StarChefs.com Rising Stars Award, he's one of the hot young stars of the New Orleans culinary scene. Emerging as a local talent in his own right, Shaya blends an ability to innovate (chlorophyll al dente pasta, anyone?) with an intuition for the kind of food that people crave, whether it's called comfort food or rustic. We've watched him work—and more importantly, have eaten his work—all of which is a testament to the chef's ability to absorb the best in culinary culture, from Italy to Louisiana and beyond.