The Rise of Za’atar

At Restaurant Shaya

BY: Sarah Lubitz, Alumni Contributor

When I think of spices used at Shaya, the modern Israeli restaurant I work at in New Orleans, the first thing I think of is the smell of za’atar. Once I am fixated on that smell, I start thinking of specific things. I think of our pita bread, steaming as it is being taken from the oven. Our pita is served with an olive oil and za’atar mixture, and this is one of the first tastes of Shaya that you are presented with as a diner. I also cannot help but think of our Israeli salad, a bright and bold mixture, beautiful in its simplicity. Diced cucumbers and red onions are accompanied by quartered grape tomatoes. Za’atar, salt, fresh lemon zest, and a vinaigrette made with za’atar finish this salad. When ordered, more za’atar is sprinkled upon the salad. The smell of this herb blend is earthy, and it transports me to some place far away yet familiar.

My knowledge of za’atar was limited before starting my job at Shaya. I decided to taste it and to truly enjoy using it at work. But, since then, I have wanted to know more. Admittedly, writing this article made me finally get around to truly educating myself about this blend. I turned to Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem: A Cookbook to gain more knowledge. I quickly discovered that not only is za’tar a common spice blend, but it is a plant. During my reading, I learned that za’atar can be used fresh in the spring and in the summer, and it can be used dried and rehydrated throughout the rest of the year. When most people think of za’atar, they think of the spice blend that contains dried hyssop leaves, ground sumac, toasted sesame seeds, and salt. I turned to my boss, Shaya’s chef de cuisine, Zach Engel, to ask him about the blend we use at the restaurant. He told me that Shaya uses a Jordanian blend, which is composed of mostly thyme and oregano.

To gain even more knowledge of the za’atar plant, my chef loaned me his copy of The Spice Companion: A Guide to the World of Spices, written by the founder of La Boîte, Lior Lev Sercarz. In Lior’s book, he tells us that za’atar, Origanum syriacum, was an herb before it was a spice blend. He explains that this herb is the main component in the Middle Eastern spice blend of the same name, along with such spices as sesame, sumac, thyme, and other various spices, most of which vary from country to country. When it comes to be being harvested, za’atar is harvested in the wild, but is now being commercially cultivated because of the ever-growing demand for it. The most traditional uses for za’atar are the za’atar spice blend, marinated olives, tomato salad, all from the Middle East; Shanklish cheese in Lebanon; herbal tea in Oman. Za’atar is commonly used in flatbreads and in pita bread, as well as in mixtures with olive oil.

When it comes to using this herb in the kitchen, there are many options. Lior suggests adding crushed dried za’atar leaves to cheese biscuits before baking. He also suggests whisking together za’atar, honey, lemon juice, and olive oil, and then using it for basting a Cornish hen as it roasts. (I feel like this would work for any poultry.) At Shaya, as previously mentioned, we use it with oil for pita bread, and we use it in our Israeli salad. We have also used za’atar on fresh pita chips, and we have sprinkled it in salads. I look forward to learning of more uses for this spice blend that I have come to love. Hopefully, the next time you cook, you will keep za’atar in mind.



photo courtesy of Leslie Jennings

AOS Graduation Speaker 

January 20, 2017

Terrance Brennan 

Chef, Restaurateur, Consultant, Entrepreneur

by Shelly Loveland, Staff Contributor

The son of Annandale, VA restaurateurs, Terrance Brennan has risen steadily to become one of America’s most highly regarded chefs and restaurateurs. Chef Brennan cites several key experiences that have elevated him to prominence in the food world. One of the most notable was his work at the famed Le Cirque restaurant in New York City. He also honed his talents and skills in many of Europe’s finest Michelin-starred restaurants. A defining moment for him came while he was working under Chef Roger Vergé at Le Moulin de Mougins in the south of France, where he was inspired by the region’s “cuisine of the sun.” There, his signature style began to emerge.

Chef Brennan took his craft back to the U.S., where he specialized in Mediterranean-inspired American cuisine. In 1993, he opened his first restaurant, Picholine, which he named after the petite green olives indigenous to the Mediterranean. The restaurant quickly became a premier dining destination, earning three stars from The New York Times, four stars from New York magazine, and two stars in the Michelin Guide. Such recognition catapulted Chef Brennan’s career, and in 1995 he was awarded Best New Chef honors in Food & Wine magazine. 

His strong passion for artisanal cheeses prompted Chef Brennan to use Picholine as a launching pad for the presentation of the traditional European cheese course. He then extended his groundbreaking cheese service in 2001 with Artisanal, a bistro-fromagerie-wine bar that gained immediate prominence as a shrine to the pleasures of fine cheeses. In 2003, he paid the ultimate “homage to the fromage” when he launched the Artisanal Premium Cheese Center, a 10,000-square-foot facility dedicated to the selection, maturation, and distribution of the world’s finest artisanal cheeses. In October 2016, Chef Brennan opened The Roundhouse by Terrance Brennan, a farm-inspired restaurant in Beacon, NY. 

Striving for excellence every day, Chef Brennan brings passion, creativity, and enthusiasm to each project. As a successful industry consultant, he has shared his vast knowledge with such notable companies as Fresh Direct, Starbucks, Williams Sonoma, Neiman Marcus, Sherry-Lehmann, British Airways, and Air France.

A frequent guest on the Today show, Chef Brennan has also appeared on PBS, the Food Network, Martha Stewart Living Television, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, the CBS Morning News, The Early Show, and Live with Regis and Kelly. He is the author of Artisanal Cooking: A Chef Shares His Passion for Handcrafting Great Meals at Home. Chef Brennan is also the proud holder of the Guinness World Record for the World’s Largest Fondue. Created on the Today show, the one-ton fondue helped serve 5,000 meals for local charity City Harvest.

In 2016, Chef Brennan joined CIA President Dr. Tim Ryan ’77 as host of Chefs for Clearwater. Held at the college, the event brought together leading Hudson Valley chefs with the CIA and the Clearwater organization to raise awareness of critical issues involving sustainability and food ethics and how they relate to the Hudson Valley watershed.



Graduation Photos


As time continues to pass, the trends in the food industry seem to be marching forward in the plant-centric direction. As pulses were the focus of 2016, 2017 may have more plant-based foods at the center of the plate as more people realize their multitude of benefits. Food waste is also a huge topic in the food industry and learning to utilize an entire product is significant to keep waste to a minimum. This year, we will see more of cauliflower, plant roots and stems, purple veggies, ethnic foods, and food served in bowls amongst others. Continue reading “Food Trends to Soar in 2017”

It may be news to some current students, but CIA has just implemented a new dining plan which mimics a more traditional college meal plan. The new structure includes four different plans that students can purchase, each with different features. The first is the “base” plan, which is required by all students. This is the system of 20 points per day which we all are accustomed to. The change comes with the three other plans available which bundle gold points with the normal blue or green points. The residential, residential plus and the residential ultimate plans each have 20 points a day but then add 325, 650 and 1,000 gold points respectively. Each plan increases in price as you move towards more gold points. Students can also opt to buy more gold points to supplement their plan until the next semester. The Associate Director of Dining services, Peg Graham explains that the dining plan “is about the same, but now it is a sealed deal.” If the new plan isn’t much different, then why did dining services choose to change?


Continue reading “You Spoke, Dining Services Listened”