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20 Questions

My NOLA: 20 Questions with Zachary Engel

James Beard finalist Chef Zachary Engel of Shaya shares his favorite things about New Orleans – and a recipe that you can make at home.

Chef Zachary Engel of Shaya. (Courtesy photo)
Chef Zachary Engel of Shaya. (Courtesy photo)

Shaya, a modern Israeli restaurant on Magazine Street, had a quick rise to fame since its open date in early 2015 (for good reason). The creation of Chef Alon Shaya, the restaurant is a delicate fusion between innovative and creative Israeli dishes with traditional Southern cuisine. And, though young, the restaurant is no stranger to awards and accolades.

In 2016, Shaya was named the Best New Restaurant at the James Beard Awards – one of the highest culinary honors. This year, Shaya Chef de cuisine Zachary Engel won the award for Rising Star Chef of the Year, presented by S. Pellegrino.

Find out how an incredible up-and-coming chef lives and breathes the Crescent City, and read on for one of Engel’s recipes that graces the Shaya menu so you can whip it up in your own kitchen.


1. Who is your favorite New Orleanian, dead or alive, real or imagined?

Paul Prudhomme.

2.What first brought you to New Orleans?

First time: to attend Tulane University. Second time: to open an Israeli restaurant.

Shaya, where Chef Zachary Engel spends his days. (Photo by Paul Broussard)
Shaya, where Chef Zachary Engel spends his days. (Photo by Paul Broussard)

3. In your opinion – what’s the best neighborhood in New Orleans?

Touro-Bouligny in Uptown. I live and work there, and it’s going to be my home for a long time.

4. If it’s a beautiful day, where are you going to spend it?

Audubon Park with my wife, daughter, and dog.

Audubon Park.
Audubon Park.

5. Describe the best meal you’ve eaten in New Orleans.

Mosca’s for my wife’s birthday. [Owners] Lisa and Mary Jo set us up in the small dining room right by the kitchen, and we had a great meal with our closest friends to celebrate.

6. Where’s your favorite brunch spot?

Carrollton Market. I love how Jason Goodenough and his crew execute their food so well for dinner and brunch. A big Bloody Mary and Creole Cream Cheese Stuffed French Toast with Mississippi blueberries, and I’m all set.

7. What’s your favorite type of po-boy? Where do you get it?

Guy’s. My neighborhood spot. Large roast beef with gravy, Swiss cheese, grilled onions, and fully dressed with a half bottle of Crystal hot sauce. It’s a typical day-off ritual. I get my errands done early because I’ll have to take a nap right after.

8. You’ve got friends visiting, and it’s their first time in New Orleans – where are you taking them?

Down to the French Quarter for a cocktail tour. Start at the Carousel Bar for Pimm’s Cups to go. Then to the Old Absinthe House for Ramos Gin Fizz, French 75 Bar and, if we can make it, to Cane & Table. A lot of my friends are cooks from elsewhere and really appreciate the way we do classic cocktails down here.

9. What’s your favorite neighborhood bar?

Bouligny Tavern. I wish I could feel as classy as Bouligny Tavern is all the time.

10. What is your favorite New Orleans cocktail, and where do you go to get it?

Old-fashioned. Everywhere I go, even outside of NOLA, I like to see how other people put together an old-fashioned. Nobody does it like us, though.

11. What’s your favorite dessert or sweet treat in the city?

Desserts at Shaya. I play guinea pig for our pastry chef Bronwen Wyatt’s experiments. I’m a little biased, but her Babka King Cake this year was outrageous and my favorite pastry I ate all year.

12. Best spot to see live music?

I used to see quite a few punk shows at One Eyed Jack’s while I was in college here. I take my family to Snug Harbor when they come to town for some live jazz.

13. Favorite New Orleans musician or band?

Jason Marsalis. We traveled to Israel last year together, and watching him play any percussion instrument is unreal.

14. Favorite New Orleans festival?

Jazz Fest. I like being outside and all those food vendors!

jazz fest po-boy
The cochon de lait po-boy at Jazz Fest. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

15. What’s your ideal New Orleans date night?

My wife will get a bottle of wine, and I’ll cook at home. Sometimes, we like to spend a night away from restaurants and just be together.

How happy was I to discover a brand new spot on Oak Street -- Coutelier NOLA is the boutique for professional Japanese cutlery -- amazing carbon steel knives, knife rolls, aprons, chef and bartender tools, and books and magazines of interest to the serious foodie or food/beverage professional.
Coutelier features professional Japanese cutlery. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

16. What are your favorite local shops?

I drop into Coutelier on Oak Street a lot. They specialize in Japanese knives (and some American-made) and kitchen gadgets/gear. It’s like a candy shop for chefs. There’s only a few other stores like it anywhere else in the country and the owners keep curating more and more stuff I have to have.

17. What is your favorite New Orleans museum?


Entrance to the New Orleans Museum of Art. (Courtesy photo)
Entrance to the New Orleans Museum of Art. (Courtesy photo)

18. Where do you go to watch The Saints play?

Usually, to a friend’s house. If I’m off for a Saints game day, I like to do a big barbecue and make a mess in someone else’s kitchen.

19. Describe New Orleans in one word.


20. When was the last time you fell in love with New Orleans, and why?

Almost every day at Shaya. Our guests stop me in the dining room all the time to say how much they love our food. I get to put my life’s work on the line, and New Orleanians appreciate and love it. I never thought people would take so well to the food that we cook. The warmth and love in our city makes me love it more each day.

Recipe: Halloumi with Strawberries, Pickled Chilies and Carob Molasses

A recipe from Chef Zachary Engel, Chef de Cuisine at Shaya

Chef Zachary Engel's Halloumi.
Chef Zachary Engel’s Halloumi.

Yield: 4 servings


  • ¾ lb. fresno chile peppers (or wax peppers)
  • 2 sprigs oregano
  • 8 gloves garlic
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups white distilled vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 16 oz halloumi cheese, cut into 4 pieces
  • 3 cups canola oil
  • 1 lb. strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons carob molasses


  1. Preheat the oven to 325 F.
  2. Cut the stems off the top of the peppers with a small paring knife. Insert the paring knife into the pepper and scrape out all the seeds and pith into a large bowl. Discard the stems and seeds and place the peppers in a large container with a lid.
  3. On a cutting board, crush the garlic with the side of a knife. Place the garlic, oregano, water, vinegar, salt and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a medium sauce pot; bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and let the pickling liquid sit for 3 – 5 minutes and then pour over the peppers. Let the pickled peppers cool until room temperature.
  4. With a small knife, remove the leaves and stems from the top of the strawberries. Place the strawberries in a shallow baking dish with the bottoms of the fruit facing up. Sprinkle the remaining 4 tablespoons of sugar on top. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes until the fruit is a dark garnet color. Keep the strawberries in the syrup and cool to room temperature.
  5. In the frying pan, heat the canola oil to approximately 400 F. Carefully, place the halloumi in the hot oil and cook until golden brown. Flip the cheese over with a long pair of tongs, as necessary. Remove from the pan and drain on a paper towel to catch any excess grease.
  6. To Serve: Pour the strawberries and their syrup on the bottom of a plate and place the halloumi on top of the fruit. Chop the pickled chilies into large pieces and sprinkle approximately one pepper over the top. Drizzle ½ tablespoon of carob molasses over each portion.

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