Culi­nary su­per­star hon­ored as guest speaker

Alon Shaya gives com­mence­ment speech at Culi­nary In­sti­tute

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By M. English For Me­di­aNews Group

Cen­tral Montco Tech­ni­cal High School Di­rec­tor Seth Schram calls the suc­cess of culi­nary pro­gram grad­u­ate Alon Shaya “un­par­al­leled” and the 1997 CHTHS alum’s in­vi­ta­tion to be guest speaker at Culi­nary In­sti­tute of Amer­ica’s most re­cent com­mence­ment, “a ma­jor honor for both Alon and the school.”

Food­ies will rec­og­nize Shaya’s name with­out fur­ther prompts. In short, he runs the highly-re­garded Saba and Safta restau­rants – in New Or­leans and Den­ver, re­spec­tively – au­thored the well-re­ceived “Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Jour­ney Back to Is­rael” and has soared to celebrity chef sta­tus in the 22 years since he honed his

skills in the teach­ing kitchens at Ply­mouth Town­ship­based CMTHS be­fore grad­u­at­ing from the pres­ti­gious CIA in 1999.

The in­vi­ta­tion to re­turn to CIA – the alma mater of promi­nent chefs and food world per­son­al­i­ties as di­verse as the late An­thony Bour­dain and Paul Bo­cuse – as a com­mence­ment speaker?

Yet an­other im­pres­sive fold in Shaya’s al­ready-im­pres­sive toque, says Schram, him­self a 1991 CIA grad.

When Shaya at­tended CMTHS in the mid-1990s, Schram was a teacher in its culi­nary pro­gram. Shaya, who’d em­i­grated here from Is­rael with his mother and sis­ter when he was four, was a stu­dent at Har­ri­ton High School in Bryn Mawr and bet­ter known as a dis­ci­pline prob­lem and hell­raiser than a culi­nary vir­tu­oso. For­tu­nately, the trou­bled teen found a cham­pion in Har­ri­ton home eco­nom­ics teacher Donna Bar­nett, who rec­og­nized the con­sid­er­able cook­ing tal­ents he’d be­gun de­vel­op­ing years be­fore as a young kid in a sin­gle par­ent house­hold and steered him to­ward CMTHS’s culi­nary pro­gram.

In Ply­mouth, Schram and fel­low teacher-chef Alan Ne­sen­sohn also rec­og­nized Shaya’s tal­ents and helped him re­fine the gas­tro­nomic sen­si­bil­i­ties he traced to his grand­mother and TV cook­ing shows presided over by

A-list chefs like Emeril La­gasse and Paul Prud­homme.

Shaya’s lo­cal men­tors helped him nav­i­gate the CIA ap­pli­ca­tion and en­roll­ment process, and fol­low­ing his CIA grad­u­a­tion, he headed to Las Ve­gas and an in­tern­ship at the Rio Ho­tel and Casino. Two years later, Shaya re­lo­cated to New Or­leans and even­tu­ally opened the city’s Domenica, Pizza Domenica and Shaya eater­ies – the lat­ter, win­ner of the 2016 James Beard Award for this coun­try’s Best New Res­tau­rant – as part of John Besh Res­tau­rant Group.

Along the way, he spent a year in Italy, par­tic­i­pated in a culi­nary ex­change to his na­tive Is­rael and con­tin­ued to cre­ate the sig­na­ture reper­toire that fuses those Ital­ian, Is­raeli and NOLA per­spec­tives and earned him the James Beard Best Chef South ti­tle in 2015.

After split­ting with the Besh or­ga­ni­za­tion, Shaya formed his own Pomegranat­e Hos­pi­tal­ity and con­tin­ues to rack up awards. But Schram says his for­mer stu­dent has never for­got­ten his roots. As the CMTHS chief noted when Shaya re­turned to the school for an in-house cook­ing demo last fall:

“It was clear, while (Shaya) was here, he just loved work­ing with food. You com­bine tal­ent with pa­tience, pos­i­tive en­ergy … the abil­ity to have a goal and work to­ward it, stick with it … Alon had — has — all of that. And with all his suc­cess, he’s never for­got­ten where he came from. He’s ex­tremely down-to-earth and treats ev­ery­body like fam­ily … the way he’d like to be treated, I’d say. He’s re­mained grounded de­spite all his suc­cess. Very much who he was then, he is now.”

Shaya’s in­vi­ta­tion to Schram and 1999 CMTHS Culi­nary grad Jar­rett Young — a 2001 CIA grad who be­longs to the Ply­mouth school’s cur­rent Culi­nary fac­ulty — to ac­com­pany him to Hyde Park, N.Y., for CIA’s Oct. 20 com­mence­ment was “amaz­ing … an­other re­minder of the won­der­ful things that are hap­pen­ing here (at CMTHS).”

“Alon’s story is pretty awe­some, and this was such an honor for him and for us, to have one of our for­mer stu­dents achieve what he’s achieve and at such a young age,” Schram says. “The fact that he in­vited me and Jar­rett to be there with him for this un­be­liev­able honor … to share that ex­pe­ri­ence is pretty mind­blow­ing and tells you a lot about who Alon re­ally is. We’re all so happy for him.”

Dur­ing the Hyde Park fes­tiv­i­ties, Shaya’s guests got to meet in­ter­na­tional culi­nary lu­mi­nar­ies like Eric Ripert and Jose An­dres.

“And that was awe­some, in­cred­i­ble … pick a word,” Schram say. “The whole


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All num­bers un­of­fi­cial un­til val­i­dated. week­end … every­one we got to meet, ev­ery part of it, ex­ceeded ev­ery ex­pec­ta­tion I might have had. But even with ev­ery­thing that went on, all the amaz­ing peo­ple we ate with and talked to, Alon … lis­ten­ing to his in­cred­i­ble speech was the high­light.”


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CMTHS Di­rec­tor Seth Schram, left, and Jar­rett Young, right, a culi­nary teacher at the lo­cal school, were the guests of for­mer CMTHS stu­dent Alon Shaya and wife Emily when Shaya was key­note speaker at the Culi­nary In­sti­tute of Amer­ica’s Oct. 20 com­mence­ment.


As­so­ci­ates De­gree Grad­u­a­tion with guest speaker Alon Shaya ‘99, held in the Mar­riott Pav­il­ion on The Culi­nary In­sti­tute of Amer­ica’s New York cam­pus.

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