An Israeli immigrant raised in the suburbs of Philly by a single mom, Shaya was — by his own account — a disruptive kid who seemed like he was well on his to way to winding up in jail. It took him a few trips around the world and the help of a few very special ladies to help him see the light. Or, in his case, the pilot light.
Shaya doesn't mince words when it comes to his former home-ec teacher: "Donna Barnett saved my life," said the soft-spoken, Israeli-born chef. "I would have ended up in jail or worse. Because of her persistence, because she believed in me and saw the opportunity to make a difference in my life and she stuck with me, I am able to do what I am doing today.
Picture a helium balloon, hovering above a birthday party. Now wipe the saccharine colors and slogans and focus instead on the lightness and lift and irrational buoyancy of that latex sphere. Such an image will float into focus when an orb of pita, baked in a cerulean-tiled beehive oven and trailing sweet wood smoke, lands on your table at Shaya, the modern Israeli restaurant that Alon Shaya opened this past winter on Magazine Street in New Orleans...