Scoot: Celebrating Hanukkah with latkes and Chef Alon Shaya

Saba named 2018 Restaurant of the Year

December 07, 2018 - 9:55 am

I think the American story is about being open and I think the American story is about sharing traditions and sharing histories.  I was born in Israel and immigrated to this country when I was 4 with my family.  I had an opportunity to live out that American dream and fall in love with this country.  I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.” 

Award-winning Chef Alon Shaya – New Orleans


It is Hanukkah – the Festival of Lights.  I wanted to learn more about this celebrated tradition of the Jewish people and the best place for that was in the kitchen of the New Orleans restaurant, Saba, with renowned-Chef Alon Shaya. 

Chef Shaya wanted to show us how to prepare the traditional Jewish food known as latkes, but I was as interested in the tradition of Hanukkah as I was in the cooking demonstration.  And Chef Shaya was excited to talk about his faith and the tradition of latkes during Hanukkah. 

The chef reminisced about how his mother prepared latkes during Hanukkah and how that was an important part of their annual celebration.  He even remembered the process of being close to the cooking of the latkes and even said it was cool “getting burned” by the splattering of oil as the latkes cooked.

When Chef Shaya talked about the family tradition of preparing and sharing the latkes, it made me think of our tradition of eating crawfish.  It’s not just about consuming food – it’s more about the togetherness the food invites.  “It’s a family thing we do together.  You make latkes together during Hanukkah.  You light the menorah.  You make jelly donuts,” Chef Shaya said with joy.

Cooking the latkes in oil is symbolic to their faith and the chef said, “It’s about celebrating oil.  It’s about the miracle of lights.  That’s what makes Hanukkah Hanukkah.  It’s like the turkey of Thanksgiving.  It’s dedicating the temple.  It’s dedicating the temple for prayer.”

Being American means accepting other cultures and in a brief moment in the kitchen with Chef Shaya cooking latkes and talking passionately about the significance to Jewish people during Hanukkah made me feel like I had truly celebrated a great tradition of another culture.

Chef Shaya had this view of the symbolism of the latkes, “If you think about all the people in the world as shreds of potato and you bring them all together into one beautiful latkes, that’s what America is to me.”

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