Beard-Winning Chef Shaya to Open Israeli Eatery at Wynn
Multiple James Beard-winning Mediterranean chef Alon Shaya is opening a new restaurant at the Wynn. The as-yet unnamed eatery will launch sometime next winter in the 14,000 square-foot space formerly home to Wynn’s Tryst and Intrigue nightclubs.
“The restaurant is really going to have to live up to that space,” Shaya told Eater Vegas. “I expect to bring my style of cooking out to Vegas and make something really, really special.”
The Israeli-born Shaya – who will run the restaurant with his Georgia-born wife, Emily Shaya – described the food to Eater Vegas as “very soulful” and “not overly contrived – a lot of spices, a lot of grains, a lot of roasted meat.”
As they dine on the home-cooking Shaya grew up on, guests will get to enjoy a hallmark of the former Wynn nightclubs: a full view of a 90-foot cascading waterfall outside.
Shaya’s parents moved him from Israel to Philadelphia when he was 4, a tough time to be different.
“When you’re that age, you just want to be the same,” Shaya told Eater Vegas. Finding himself alone a lot, he sought solace in the kitchen. By age 7, he found himself emulating the hummus-heavy Middle Eastern and Mediterranean recipes of his beloved Bulgarian-Israeli grandmother, Matilda.
Shaya, who attended the Culinary Institute of America, got his professional start in Vegas, interning at Napa at the Rio, under legendary French chef Jean-Louis Palladin. By 2015, he won his first Beard Award, for “Best Chef: South,” after opening the Italian restaurant Domenica in New Orleans. (By then, he’d been sneaking Middle Eastern ingredients onto the restaurant’s menu.)
Difficulty in the Big Easy
Shaya was also once the executive chef and part owner of an Israeli restaurant that still bears his name in New Orleans. In 2016, the James Beard Foundation named Shaya “America’s Best New Restaurant.” However, Besh Restaurant Group (BRG) – the company with a controlling interest in that eatery and Domenica – terminated Shaya from both in 2017. That was after the publication of a New Orleans Times-Picayune exposé on sexual harassment charges at BRG. (Shaya was not implicated, but shared information with the article’s reporter.)
“I do feel like I was fired for talking … and for standing up,” he told the newspaper in a follow-up interview. (In court filings, BRG disputed that claim.) Shaya sued BRG to have his name removed from the restaurant but lost that battle in 2018. He later settled with BRG.
The Shayas were forced to start from scratch, opening two of their own modern Israeli restaurants in 2018: Saba (Hebrew for “grandfather) in New Orleans; and Safta (Hebrew for “grandmother”) in Denver. Shaya told Eater Vegas he looks forward to his third new restaurant.
“Vegas is, to me, like a homecoming,” he said. “It’s a full circle to be able to come back and express myself (with) this cuisine.”
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