Originally from Israel, Shai’s cooking lessons began when he was a child where, alongside his grandmother, he learned techniques and flavors that have carried him through his career. It was during these years that Shai first learned to make traditional Persian meals. Shai’s introduction to the country he would eventually call home also began as a child when he would spend summers visiting his grandparents in Maine, prompting him to learn English.
At age 17, Chef Shai took his first job in the kitchen as a dishwasher where he was initially introduced to the hospitality industry. Following this brief stint, he served in the Israeli Army for seven years and quickly worked his way up through the ranks. At the end of his service, he served as an Operations Officer and led a brigade of two thousand people. Upon retirement from the service, Shai enrolled in college to study economics, but the kitchen lured him back.
While in school, Shai began working in the restaurant of celebrity chef Avi Bitton. Before long, he was promoted to sous chef. It was during that busy time of handling a full-time job and school that he met his future wife, a native Charlottean. The couple eventually left Israel to live in the New York City where Chef Shai worked under renowned restaurateur David Burke. In 2015, the couple moved to Charlotte to be closer to their family and that is about the time that a mutual friend introduced Chef Shai to restaurateur Frank Scibelli, who was working on a Mediterranean concept. It was the perfect opportunity for the Israeli-born chef to use his native recipes and knowledge of other Mediterranean cuisine, like that of Greece and Turkey, to partner for the opening of Yafo Kitchen. After working with acclaimed Mediterranean chef and friend of Shai, Einat Admony, to develop the menu, the restaurant officially became a reality in 2016.
In addition to the successful location in SouthPark, two new locations of Yafo Kitchen will open in 2018 and Chef Shai will oversee the kitchens and menu offerings of all three locations.
When he’s not at work, Chef Shai can be found at home with his wife, Sharon, and their two precious girls.