Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Zachary Engel-he's a rising star!


Chef Zachary Engel

Kudos go out to Chef Zachary Engel for winning the James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year. Engel is the chef de cuisine at Shaya restaurant in New Orleans, and was one of 11 New Orleans chefs to be a James Beard Award finalist this year. And if his name sounds familiar, he is also the son of Rabbi Steven and Beverly Engel of the Congregation of Reform Judaism.

This is a prestigious honor, as the James Beard Awards are considered among the highest honors in the American culinary arts.

Engel received his award at a black-tie gala in Chicago on May 1, and mom and dad were there in attendance to celebrate with him.

"We are so proud of our son Zachary for winning the James Beard Award for 'Rising Star Chef of The Year.' This is like an Academy Award for chefs and the recipient is considered to be the number one chef under 30 in America," said Rabbi Engel. "This is an amazing accomplishment and the fact that the food he cooks is Israeli and Jewish-influenced makes this recognition even sweeter for us, because of our love of Israel and Judaism. We have watched how hard Zach has worked and the artistry of the dishes he has prepared and know that he has truly found his passion in cooking. As we sat at the awards ceremony we felt truly blessed by this and by the recognition he has received."

Engel was raised in Orlando and attended Tulane. Before joining the opening staff at Shaya in 2015, he cooked in Tel Aviv at Catit Restaurant, and at the landmark Philadelphia restaurant Zahav, the Israeli restaurant owned by Michael Solomonov-who, you may remember, was the narrator and "tour guide" through the Jewish Film Festival documentary "In Search of Israeli Cuisine." Engel started cooking while he was in college to "make extra beer money," he told the Times-Picayune. He also didn't learn his cooking abilities at home.

"His mother is not a cook and I cooked when I could, given my schedule. He says he cooked to survive at home," said the rabbi.

But here he is now, managing a 100-person staff and creating Israeli dishes that helped Shaya win its James Beard Award for best new restaurant in 2016.

"It's absolutely surreal," he said, just after winning the prestigious award, "I'm up against all of these other talented chefs, it doesn't make any sense: Israeli food in New Orleans?... It's an exciting time in American cuisine."

Although Engel's specialty is Israeli cuisine, there is one item on the menu that comes from family recipes: "His brisket is a family recipe," said Rabbi Engel.


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