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Will Alon Shaya Leave the NOLA Restaurants That Made Him Famous?

Shaya is out as executive chef in the midst of a split with restaurateur John Besh

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Aaron Davidson/Getty Images for SOBEWFF®

Stunning moves out of New Orleans: Alon Shaya, the multi-James-Beard-Award-winning chef (best known for the acclaimed Domenica, Pizza Domenica, and Eater Best New Restaurant Shaya), is no longer the executive chef at any of the three restaurants, including the one that carries his name. His status at all restaurants is currently unclear.

Shaya and his partner in all three businesses, noted chef and empire builder John Besh, announced their split on Monday after more than a decade-long working relationship. The following day, Shaya — who held the executive chef title at all three restaurants — officially passed the baton, with Michael Wilson taking the executive chef reins at Domenica and Pizza Domenica, and Zachary Engel, the 2017 James Beard Award recipient for Rising Star Chef, taking the helm at Shaya.

In a message to the Times-Picayune, Shaya praised the new guard, saying that “for several years now [they] have been doing amazing work. I am super proud of them as I always have been.” However, as Times-Pic dining critic Brett Anderson noted in his reporting, Shaya declined to comment further on previously reported negotiations that he was in talks to purchase Shaya from the Besh Restaurant Group.

Reps from Shaya and the Besh Restaurant Group declined Eater’s request for comment.

Until now, the Shaya-Besh partnership had proved fruitful. In 2015, Shaya won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: South for his work at the Italian-inflected Domenica. When the namesake Shaya debuted that same year serving an “exquisite tribute” to the chef’s Israeli heritage, as Eater’s Bill Addison described it, the restaurant quickly won Eater’s award for Restaurant of the Year; it followed that up with the 2016 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant.

“One of the main reasons why we were able to — within the first year — make such a big impact [was] because we had a team that was just unfuckingstoppable,” Shaya told Eater in spring 2016. “The people that have made that restaurant what it is are at the top of their game.” The national attention showered upon the restaurant also led to Shaya’s first cookbook, Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel, which is slated for release next March.

Besh, meanwhile, has experienced a bumpier road of late. In May of this year, he sold the long-running New Orleans restaurant La Provence; in February, he shuttered a San Antonio location of Lüke. Besh still enjoys a robust restaurant portfolio housing 15 concepts, including August, Besh Steak, and Johnny Sánchez, the latter a casual taco spot co-created by Chopped chopper Aarón Sánchez.

The high-profile chef shuffle and the duo’s “parting ways,” as the Besh Group puts it, suggests one of two moves. By delegating executive-chef duties elsewhere, Alon Shaya might be setting himself up to run his own namesake empire (as he may have been hinting at with those cryptic #shayarestaurantgroup Instagram hashtags, which eagle-eyed members of the peanut gallery spotted back in May). Or, the split is less than amicable and Alon Shaya is being shown the door — even if it currently has his name on it.

Alon Shaya Replaced as Executive Chef at Shaya and Domenica [Times-Pic]
Chefs John Besh and Alon Shaya Are Parting Ways [Times-Pic]

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