JNOLA Journeys

JNOLA is happy to present a new series of interviews called JNOLA Journeys, where JNOLA folks can share their unique and compelling stories. Get to know the people who make up your New Orleans Jewish community!

JNOLA is the NextGen program of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, and is generously sponsored by the Oscar J. Tolmas Charitable Trust

JNOLA Journeys – Mara Force

Mara Force earned a BA from Yale University and a MBA in Analytical Finance from Northwestern University. She currently works for JP Morgan Chase & Co as the Head of Private Client Trust. Force took part in the Jewish Federation’s Newcomers Program when she moved to New Orleans from Chicago.

Maura Force, JP Morgan Chase & Co

Q: What is your favorite thing about New Orleans?
A: The people – there is a deep sense of community and pride of place.  Also, the food.

Q: How did the Jewish Newcomers program help you?
A: I felt welcome immediately.  Once I registered for my first program someone called me from Federation and welcomed me to the community.

Q: What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve done?
A: Traveled to Antarctica!

Q: What is the last concert you went to?
A: I went Cajun dancing with my husband and we saw Sun Pie at the Ace Hotel. Very New Orleans.

Q: Who would play you in a movie about yourself?
A: I would love for Natalie Portman to play me, but perhaps Sarah Silverman is more realistic…

Q: If you could ride in any Mardi Gras parade, which one would it be?
A: I have actually ridden in Tucks twice. It was so much fun.

Q: Who’s your celebrity crush?
A: Jon Stewart.

To learn more about JP Morgan Chase & Co, visit their website at www.jpmorganchase.com.


JNOLA Journeys – Zach Engel

Zach Engel moved back to New Orleans in 2014 and has been working at the James Beard award winning restaurant, Shaya, for almost two years. He started out as the Sous Chef and is now the Chef de Cuisine. Engel and his wife participated in the Jewish Federation’s Newcomers Program upon their return to New Orleans.

Zach Engel, Chef de Cuisine of Shaya

Zach Engel, Chef de Cuisine of Shaya

Q: What is your favorite thing about New Orleans?
A: I love that there are neighborhoods. You can walk 10 blocks and the city feels different. But the city is small enough that everyone still feels connected to one another. It’s one of the magical things about New Orleans that never ceases to amaze me.

Q: How did the Jewish Newcomers program help you?
A: When my wife and I arrived in August 2014 we only really had one or two people that we knew. It was a huge jump for us to leave California for a place where she knew almost nobody. The Jewish Newcomers program helped put us at ease that we made the right decision to move back.

Q: If we came to your house for dinner tonight, what would you cook?
A: Red Beans and rice. We don’t bring pork or shellfish in our house so I make it with lots of holy trinity and turkey sausage. I catch some flack from my colleagues for not using pork but I’ve never heard any complaints about it. In a “one-pot” dish like that it’s all about layering flavors with the ingredients you have available to you.

Q: Are you a cat or a dog person and why?
A: Dog person. Always have been. I have a German shorthaired pointer named Willie Mae that I got in Pennsylvania. He’s almost 5 now and I couldn’t imagine not coming home to anything that’s less excited to see me.

Shaya_9201_0_0Q: What is your favorite thing about being Jewish in New Orleans?
A: The Jewish community has embraced Shaya as “their” restaurant, a place they can feel at home with food they know and understand. So while I may not connect with Jews in synagogues and community events I do get to connect with them in the dining room. It’s really rewarding to get that connection from members of the community and you can sense their pride in what we’re doing.

Q: What is your favorite dish at Shaya?
A: Crispy Halloumi. The quality of the cheese were getting from Cyprus is unlike any other I’ve ever worked with. It took us months working with St. James Cheese Company to find it. I get to mess around a lot with different versions of it based on the seasons and what’s available to us in Louisiana. It’s our most dynamic ingredient.

Q: How was the mission trip you just attended with Federation? What was your favorite part?
A: Incredible. I stayed with a Yemenite family, Sharon and Igal Mydani, and they took me in as one of their own. They’re a very food-centric culture within Israel so it was the perfect fit for me. On Friday morning before Shabbat I woke up at 4 am and went to the Igal’s mother’s house. She showed me how to make soup, lakhuk, pita, jakhnun; all the Yemenite breads. Grandma Mydani told me I was a “natural.” We’re going to start putting some of those items on the Shaya menu soon with our own little twists.

Q: What is one thing you want everyone to know about Shaya?
A: Our kitchen space is incredibly small for how big the building is. Our staff works tirelessly in tight quarters. I sometimes take a step back and ask myself how we do it every day. They’re an incredible team.

To learn more about Shaya, visit their website at www.shayarestaurant.com.



JNOLA Journeys – Rachel Angulo

Rachel Angulo, co-founder of La Cocinity

Rachel Angulo, co-founder of La Cocinita

Rachel Angulo moved here in January of 2010 and took part in the Jewish Federation’s Newcomers Program. Not long after that she co-founded the La Cocinita food truck with her husband, Venezuelan chef Benoit Angulo, and has been featured in Bravo’s Padma’s Picks: Top Chef Precursor Series, CNBC, the Wallstreet Journal, the Times Picayune, and more.

Q: When it’s a slow day at work, what song do you prefer to shout-sing in your food truck?
A: “La Cocinita” to the tune of “La Cucaracha”!

Q: How did the Jewish Newcomers program help you?
A: In addition to the obvious benefit of the stipend (which helped fund the truck), it also gave me a sense of community when I first moved here and helped me meet some NOLA transplants like myself who I had a lot in common with.

Q: What is your favorite food item that you sell?
A: I love our arepas. I’d never had Venezuelan cuisine before meeting my husband, but now arepas are a staple in my diet. The textures are great: crispy on the outside and warm and soft on the inside.

Q: Who is your favorite Spice Girl and why?
A: Sporty Spice because I was a tomboy growing up.

Q: What is your favorite thing about New Orleans?
A: The food, the music, the architecture, the fact that strangers say hi to each other walking down the street. But if I had to pick one thing I think I’d say it’s the second lines. You just can’t find it anywhere else in the world.

Q: Was it hard establishing your business here?
A: We encountered difficulties operating according to the restrictions laid out in the mobile food vending ordinances, which at the time had not been updated since 1955 (think Roman candy cart era of mobile vendors). But then we worked with the City Council and the Mayor’s Office to change the laws, and things became much smoother. As far as building up a following, though? That was the easy part. People have always embraced our food truck and the food truck scene overall here in NOLA.

Q: What is your favorite thing about being Jewish in New Orleans?
A: I love that the synagogues sponsor events that really capture the NOLA culture (Mardi Gras events along the parade route, crawfish boils, etc).

Q: What is one thing you want everyone to know about La Cocinita?
A: We love to cater private parties! We do weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, corporate events, you name it! We’ve even catered a birthday party for a dog! Having the truck at a party adds such fun ambiance, and the ease of having us pull up to your event and serve your guests without having to lift a finger or supply any paper goods makes us an obvious choice for catering!

To learn more about La Cocinita, visit their website at lacocinitafoodtruck.com.