One Night with Alon Shaya. Get a Book. Give a Book.

August 9, 2019

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Food sustains us while stories about food and family delight and save us. On June 24, United Jewish Federation of Tidewater held its third annual One Night, where Culinary Institute of Virginia College of Culinary Arts of ECPI University, James Beard award winning chef Alon Shaya, and John Stein of Baker’s Crust made possible an Israeli-inspired feast in support of a mission that teaches reading skills to at-risk children.

The One Night event raised significant funds for Be A Reader (BeAR), a literacy program conceived 20 years ago by local volunteers through UJFT Community Relations Council. In addition to an authentic and divinely curated three-course food and drink experience, each guest went home with a signed cookbook and a fresh perspective about food and storytelling.

BeAR is a volunteer-based program designed to foster a love of learning in at-risk children. For 20 years, community volunteers have shared the sweet nectar found in books and stories, knowing these one-on-one exchanges can impact future happiness and success. Fundraising events such as One Night make it possible for community volunteers to continue connecting with students in a life-changing way.

A storyteller in his own right, Alon Shaya is a James Beard award magnet whose innate cooking talent was inspired by his grandparents, long before his 10th birthday. Restaurants that reflect his personal story of hardship, love, breakthroughs and survival, are aptly named Safta (grandmother in Yiddish) and Saba (grandfather).

Jodi Klebanoff, an Israeli food enthusiast, chaired this year’s One Night event. “It was very inspiring” she says. “He (Shaya) shared his childhood struggles and told us he wasn’t a good student. It was cooking that lifted him up and gave him confidence. I thought about the children we reach through BeAR, whose eyes are open to powerful stories when they gain reading skills. Our BeAR students are just about the same age as Chef was when he bonded with his grandparents in the kitchen and found a new path.”

With multiple restaurants in New Orleans and a new spot in Denver, Shaya continues to collect James Beards awards and blossom as a culinary chameleon and trailblazer who embraces his Israeli heritage with Southern influences and Italian flair.

Lisa Richmon

Mark Robbins Photography

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