Galit, the upcoming Israeli restaurant from acclaimed New Orleans chef Zach Engel and Andrés Clavero, a senior accountant at Nico Osteria, hinges on close-knit friendships and connections. For example, there’s the connection Engel and Clavero made studying business together at Tulane University. The two self-admitted nerds bonded and discovered how common food cultures could bring together a Jewish chef who studied in Israel and a Cuban-Palestinian.
Engel developed his skills over four years working for Alon Shaya, a Beard Award winner who broke off from the company formerly known as Besh Hospitality Group. Engel considers Shaya a mentor and more as a family member than a friend. Shaya gave him his blessing to leave the company. That rapport continues in Chicago where Clavero moved eight years ago. Clavero hasn’t managed to find a Chicago restaurant that quite satisfies when he wants a taste of his Palestinian heritage. Using a wood-fired oven, Engel’s pitas are tough for any restaurant to compete against.
“I think sharing a good hummus with friends and family is one of my favorite things to do,” Clavero said. “I’m excited to see Zach back on the kitchen line, I think the quality of the hummus and pita that I know he can put together is my favorite.”
The two talked on Tuesday in Fulton Market as Engel flies in and out of Chicago while working on the new restaurant at 2429 N. Lincoln Avenue. He’s also searching for apartment and daycare options for his daughter; he used her nickname for the restaurant. They’re still figuring out the layout, but Engel and Clavero want to give the area more of a formal experience. They’ll take reservations, somewhat of an irregularity near DePaul University. Diners who have eaten at Shaya in New Orleans will obviously see similarities at Galit. Engel hopes he’ll be able to use Midwestern produce and cater to Chicago appetites to make his restaurant unique. The menu will also feature dishes that Engel had while living in Israel with his take. He knows that some Chicagoans may see “meat and potatoes” as a stereotype that sells the city’s culinary scene short. But Engel said he may use that as an inspiration and have fun.
“It’s another way to figure out how to connect with people at the table,” Engel said.
While working for Shaya’s group, Engel’s been involved on the business side with opening Saba in New Orleans and Safta in Denver. He’s excited to return his focus to the kitchen in Chicago. He and his wife wanted to move closer to family near the East Coast and Chicago emerged as a landing spot. Engel’s instantly felt welcomed to Chicago. Clavero’s connections at Nico Osteria furthered bonds with Erling Wu-Bower and Josh Tilden who are both now at Pacific Standard Time. Engel also pointed to chefs Jason Vincent and Ben Lustbader at Giant, along with Monteverde’s Sarah Grueneberg for their kind words.
“People have been really supportive and positive,” Engel, last year’s Beard Rising Chef of the Year, said. “That’s really awesome to go to a place that you’ve never really lived and you only know some of the people.”
The restaurant should open in early 2019. Stay tuned for more developments.