John Besh, chef and owner of several New Orleans restaurants including August and Lüke, will be opening a new Italian restaurant, Domenica, in The Roosevelt New Orleans this year. We got a chance to ask a few questions of Alon Shaya, executive chef of Domenica and partner in the restaurant, and the answers left our mouths watering…
Salumi will obviously be a big part of Domenica. Will you be using local pigs? What types of salumi, specifically, do you plan on offering, and why?
Once I returned from Italy that was the first thing I started doing. We had a few pigs from La Provence slaughtered and began curing the pig necks (coppa) the bellies for pancetta, the legs for culatello and fiochetto, and we also made lots of different kinds of salami, like strolghino and Gentile. Salumi will be a big part of what we do at Domenica because it is a big part of the everyday eating habits of Italians. I had a chance to work in a Salumificio (a butchery that makes all kinds of cured meats) outside of Parma and learned some very old recipes for different kinds of cured Italian meats, so that is what I am replicating back here in New Orleans.
I’ve heard that there are plans for a wood-fired oven for cooking meats, pizzas, and other Italian country fare. Can you whet our appetites with a hint of what’s to come?
We will have a wood fired brick oven in the kitchen to make Napolitano style pizzas. The great thing about those ovens is they also work great for roasting meats and fish, so we will take advantage of that as well. From Domenica you can expect the types of foods you would eat with families in the country sides of Italy. Braised game birds and rabbit, grilled whole fish with lemon and herbs, hand rolled pastas with simple sauces, ricotta and spinach dumplings, fritto misto of Louisiana seafood. These are the foods I remember eating all the time Italy and I think people in New Orleans have been missing out on some of these traditional dishes.
Italian cuisine is definitely not at the forefront of the New Orleans food scene. What inspired you to open an Italian restaurant? What will you be offering that visitors and locals can’t find elsewhere?
Italian food has always been my first love when it comes to cooking. When I first started working in restaurants they were all Italian and I learned under some really great chefs. Visitors and locals will be able to experience the foods that you find in small towns and villages throughout Italy. As I traveled through Italy I found the best foods to be in small trattorie and osterie that were run by families and usually had the grandmother at the helm in the kitchen. I made it my mission to study those foods with the intention of bringing it back to new Orleans. We will still have very recognizable foods like lasagne bolognese, but it’s a recipe I learned from the 83 year old grandmother of the chef I worked for in Italy.
What appeals to you, both as a chef and diner, about country Italian food versus a fine dining experience?
I love soaking up juice left on a plate with thick pieces of bread. I love the taste of fresh arugula over a grilled steak after its been sprinkled with a little salt and lemon juice, I love eating the pieces of carrots and celery in the bottom of a casserole dish of braised rabbits, I love the way the oil separates from meat sauce on a plate of hand cut tagliatelle. Need I say more?