How one Mediterranean chef is shaking up Atlanta's food scene
Chef and grillmaster Shay Lavi aims to bring more down-home Israeli food downtown.
As a foodie and an Israeli, I keep my eyes out for chefs with an Israeli background who are making a name for themselves. Chef Shay Lavi and his wife Karen have been in Atlanta for just three years, but he’s already becoming known in the South. Lavi is best known for his successful catering company, Let’s Eat, where he brings a custom made grill on site and offers a massive and mouth-watering spread of grilled vegetables, meats, salads, and breads, all prepared in his unique style.
Lavi was asked by Bryan Schroeder, executive director of the Giving Kitchen and a close friend, to cook a meal for the Staplehouse crew, named best restaurant in Georgia by Southern Living. Since then, Lavi has continued making friends in the culinary world, and expanding his repertoire of foods. He plans to open a new shop, Rozina’s Bakehouse & Coffee in downtown Atlanta’s Hurt Plaza, in mid-November.
Speaking with Lavi was a breath of fresh air. He doesn’t spend his time and energy on gourmet plating or over-the-top compositions, but he’s dead set on creating traditional, heart-warming food that makes people happy. “When you’re passionate about something, you don’t see it as a job, you see it as a way of life. Cooking is not my job – for me, it’s like – if I can cook every day, hell yeah.”
Cooking wasn’t always in the cards for Lavi. His first businesses were in Israel, where he owned a toy store and then a media company. His foray into the kitchen began in restaurants in Jaffa and Tel Aviv, where he fell in love with professional kitchen life. The Lavis then moved to to Atlanta in 2015, when they were expecting their first child.
“I’m one of those chefs who wake up every day and change the menu,” says Lavi. A grill master, baker, and chef with Libyan and Turkish roots, Lavi grew up in Tel Aviv and spent summers in Turkey – leading to his current culinary style, which blends several cultures for mouth-watering flavors in diverse styles.
But as Lavi said, he likes to change it up. His new bakery will serve house-made pastries, breakfast foods, and a bunch of diverse salads. “My idea is to bring food to the community like they’ve never tasted,” he explains, “the kind of food that people crave – and it’s not expensive.”
“I grew up surrounded by relatives who cooked old-school, and I use the same techniques,” he says. “But progress is here – and we have more tools and technology, so why not take advantage and bring the recipe to the next level?” An example, he says, taking a traditional dish like stuffed eggplant, dehydrating it, and using it to make lasagna.
I asked Lavi how he incorporates local agriculture in his cooking. “I believe that all restaurants should be obligated to order food from local farmers. I’m working now with a few Georgia farmers to order new types of seeds and grow some crops together.” He says his goal is to bring food from farmers across the street right to your plate. His restaurant will feature local crops, and future restaurants, even more, as the local agricultural scene expands.
Lavi believes that Israeli food is slowly but surely taking the culinary world by storm. “People here haven’t yet experienced the full effect of Israeli food. But that’s changing, as many famous Israeli chefs are moving to the U.S. The food that comes from Israeli is so versatile and diverse. You have your street food that goes way beyond falafel, the many types of hummus and salads – and every chef has their own take on it.”
Certainly Lavi’s take on Israeli food has been very well-received, and Atlanta looks forward to more from this chef in the near future. As one Instagrammer put it very succinctly, “[Shay’s] food is just so damn good.”
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Related Topics: Chefs & Restaurants