Zachary Engel

Zachary Engel

Owner and Head Chef at Galit

When thinking about opening a restaurant, I looked at a lot of factors and really took a few deep breaths and thought hard if I was ready to make the leap. The biggest thing to consider is whether you ever been a part of a restaurant opening before. I had the benefit of having opened two restaurants in the year prior in two separate markets. That equates to two very in depth practice runs. Understanding the process and being very organized helped us to stay on track and manage the budget very closely. Because we can anticipate a lot, we've made a lot of decisions for the restaurant that ask the question, "Is this something we absolutely have to do now, or can we grow into that aspect at a later time?"

While opening Galit, I've come to look back on my time with the chef/owners I've worked for and gained a whole other level of respect for them. The amount of detail and breadth of what needs to be accomplished prior to a restaurant opening is astounding at the ownership level. I'm also really focused on making sure Galit and any other restaurant we open is set up for success in the future of the 21st century with our guests, employees, and future operations. I've enjoyed the challenge of figuring out the present and the near future while simultaneously planning for long-term growth opportunities for us as owners and, in turn, for our future employees.
When hiring for a restaurant, opening or already operating, I like a solid mix of personalities and traits. I think it's all about balance when you talk about a team dynamic. There will always be conflict and it's my job to manage that friction into a positive form. But I always plan for putting a team together that complements each other. I'm big on communication and organization. I also want people who are teachable and have a higher level of emotional intelligence. It's not just for how a staff member deals with guests but how they will interact with teammates. I also look for people who are serious and professional in their work but are fun-spirited. We want Galit to be a restaurant where we serve an exceptional product but guests have nothing but fun while dining. That's hard to do unless the staff can convey the message that we don't take everything too seriously, which I can tend to do, so I want to surround myself with people to create that environment.
he menu at Galit is a representation of my personality, what I've been cooking and what I want to cook. There are dishes on the menu that illustrate my pursuit to master a certain technique. Many are traditional dishes from an immigrant culture in Israel, like couscous or harissa. I've been spending my professional career, researching and learning about the foods being cooked in Israel and its people for the last century so I'm going to present those dishes in a way that is true to form but updated for the modern American guest. I also approach the menu by focusing on an ingredient and how I can seamlessly integrate it into a recipe that people are familiar with like hummus with winter squash.
I've spent a lot of the last couple years focusing on my management style so I've been reading a lot of non-fiction books. Some of those books revolve around restaurants or cooking but a lot of them don't. For years, I didn't read a lot outside of cookbooks or wine guides and I'm not a big fiction reader. So my wife encouraged me to pick up non-fiction reading. I tend to be very analytical and it helps to keep my mind sharp without obsessing over my job.
I have to be organized. When I lose control and the organization falls out of line, I become very unproductive. I couldn't do my job without technology. I am constantly balancing email accounts, calendars, to-do lists, timelines, marketing strategies all on technology. There's too much going on to not use it. I think that operators that are present in their restaurants AND tuned into the technology side of the business are prepared to grow their business and move their teams forward.
There's an entire region of the world under-represented in its cuisines and there are people and families with generations of recipes and culinary traditions. Not only have I been given an incredible opportunity to explore the foods of modern-day Israel and the Mid-East with our guests, but I have an obligation to be a bastion for the region in a positive light. It pushes me to keep researching, eating and cooking to tell this incredible story about such a beautiful and often forgotten place.
The best cooks that I've seen have always had a serious passion for their craft. They show up with clean jackets and shiny shoes, sharp knives and a professional attitude. Being well kept and clocking in, in uniform, with a starched jacket, are impressive and show thoughtfulness, even if you're covered in tattoos. If you're not prepared for the work day, you're not the kind of person who can excel in this field. It's New Orleans, so you're bound to have some fun here but I always look for the professional craftsman when hiring a cook.
The most vital skill to have for success in a kitchen is the can-do-will-do attitude. A good restaurant is usually a busy restaurant and that means there's a lot to do and manage. I will promote the people who always ask me what they can do next and want more on their plate over the more experienced cook. The people who have the drive to get better at their craft are vital to the success of the business.
My time at Madrona Manor under Jesse Mallgren is fundamental to the way I cook and create dishes. It's a Michelin one-star in Sonoma and I wanted to work for him because we used to pick ingredients in our garden to cook for service each day. I got my hands in some dirt, and as a cook it was valuable to understand growing seasons and the techniques. I'm a better judge of seasonality now. He is incredibly thoughtful when putting dishes together and I try to bring his level of focus and balance to a dish and ingredients.

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