Chef Zachary Engel will open a new eatery featuring modern Israeli cuisine in Chicago later next year. Chef Zachary Engel will open a new eatery featuring modern Israeli cuisine in Chicago later next year. Chef Zachary Engel will open a new eatery featuring modern Israeli cuisine in Chicago later next year. (Photo: SanPellegrino TV / YouTube)

Modern taste of Israel coming to Chicago

Award-winning Chef Zach Engel is bringing the scents and flavors of the Mediterranean to the Windy City.

By this time next year, Chicago may be as well known for the seductive aroma of freshly baked pita bread and creamy decadence of hummus as it is for its famous deep-dish pizzas.

Zach Engel, a 2017 James Beard Award winner for "Rising Star Chef of the Year," has selected the Windy City to host his first-ever restaurant. Named Galit, the new eatery will reflect the hungry national appetite for modern Israeli cuisine.

“I have spent the last decade of my career cooking and learning about Israeli food and other cuisines,” Engel said. “Galit will reflect my diverse culinary experiences, but also strive to embody who [general manager and partner Andres Clavero] and I are outside the kitchens we came up in — the dishes served on our family tables, the culinary experiences that have resonated with us, and the flavors that feel like home.”

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Unlike other gourmet chefs navigating the tricky waters of business management for the first time, Engel's academic pedigree provides him with a distinct advantage. A graduate of the A.B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane University, Engel never went to culinary school. Instead, his love for the world of cooking blossomed outside the classroom during a part-time position at Domenica in New Orleans. The Mediterranean restaurant, founded by Israeli chef Alon Shaya, instilled in Engel a passion for Israeli recipes and culture.

"I look at my early experience as a line cook as a master's degree, kind of like a teaching assistant position," Engel told Forbes.

After graduation, Engel would go on to rub shoulders and break bread with some of the world's most honored and respected gourmets in Israeli cuisine. He worked at Zahav under the tutelage of Israeli chef Michael Solomonov, spent a summer in Tel Aviv working alongside chef Meir Adoni, and reunited with Shaya on the opening of the award-winning restaurant in New Orleans.

Rising from sous chef to chef de cuisine at Shaya, Engel's commitment to creating authentic Israeli dishes was part of the reason the modern eatery earned the coveted James Beard Award for “Best New Restaurant” in 2016. One only need hear the story behind his proudest dish, Shipka peppers, to understand why he was honored a year later with the James Beard "Rising Star" award.

"On my last trip to Israel in April 2016 I went to the Shuk Levinski [market] in the Florentine neighborhood and tried these pickled hot banana peppers stuffed with goat cheese and packed in oil and oregano," he told Chef's Roll. "When I got back I got a farmer to grow banana peppers for us to harvest in the summer and we pickle and stuff them with whipped goat cheese and cover them in olive oil and aleppo pepper. It’s one of our all-time most popular dishes."

As for what visitors can expect when paying a visit to Galit, expected to open in 2019, past insights shared by Engel have revealed a few likely ingredients he intends to blend into his business.

For one, expect at least a few items on the menu to include hawaij, a variety of ground spices used in popular Israeli dishes from stews to rice and vegetables. According to Engel, it's his favorite spice and one that was used often at Shaya. For another, you can expect the dishes to rotate based on the availability of seasonal, local fresh produce.

"Buying local and seasonally can seem troublesome but the benefits return to you immediately," he told La Boite. "A melon in the height of summer is a taste to behold. It enriches your soul."

Perhaps the most important takeaway from his time at Shaya that Engel will likely cradle as his new restaurant's heart and soul, however, is the reflection of passion in every freshly cooked meal that leaves the kitchen. As he added to La Boite, he wants visitors to not only learn something about Israeli cuisine, but also have fun in the process.

"Authenticity in food comes from whether the chef or cook has a voice and tells their guests a story about who they are and what their passions may be," he said. "We always try and tell our story at Shaya; while using local ingredients we are showcasing dishes that reflect on the blend of cultures in present-day Israel."

Your tastebuds will only have to wait a few months. The new Galit restaurant is expected to open in early 2019.

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Modern taste of Israel coming to Chicago
Award-winning Chef Zach Engel is bringing the scents and flavors of the Mediterranean to the Windy City.