It’s a big moment for the Israeli food scene as Michael Solomonov, the Israeli-born chef behind Philadelphia’s Zahav, Abe Fisher, Federal Donuts, Dizengoff, Rooster Soup Co. and Goldie eateries, won the Outstanding Chef of the Year at Monday night’s James Beard Foundation Awards.
Considered the Oscars of the food world, the annual awards were established in 1990 for excellence in cuisine, culinary writing and culinary education.
The American-trained Solomonov switched his focus to Israeli and Jewish cuisine after his brother David, a lone soldier in the Israeli army, was killed while on duty in 2003 by Lebanese snipers.
Solomonov told The New York Times in 2011 that while he would probably end up staying in Philadelphia, his roots were in Israel.
His first restaurant, Zahav, with Steve Cook, his chef-business partner, had limestone floors, like the stone used on Jerusalem buildings, and the food reflected the mixture of ethnicities that make up Israel, from Yemenite and Syrian to Turkish, Greek, Armenian and Druze, Palestinian, Ethiopian and Russian.
The menu at Zahav mirrors that of an Israeli steakhouse, with hummus, tahini, grilled meats and plenty of eggplant dishes, but is not kosher.
Solomonov and Cook won Beard’s book of the year and international cookbook last year for “Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking.”
Their Philadelphia-based restaurant empire added Rooster Co. and Goldie this year.