Top Chef: Israeli Michael Solomonov Awarded America’s Culinary ‘Oscar’
Israeli chef Michael Solomonov has been named “outstanding chef” by prestigious culinary organization The James Beard Foundation, the highest award bestowed on a chef in the US.
He won the top award – considered by many to be the Oscars of the culinary world – on Monday night in Chicago, when hundreds of industry leaders from across the US attended the 2017 James Beard Awards ceremony, which “honors the country’s top culinary talent,” according to the foundation.
Last year, a cookbook he co-authored, entitled Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, won the prize for best international cookbook. It’s based on the food served at his critically acclaimed restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia. In 2011, he won the James Beard Award for Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic.
Solomonov, who accepted the award on Israel’s Independence Day, said in his acceptance speech: “To the State of Israel, the place of my birth: happy birthday – this award is for you.”
“The genius of Jewish cooking”
Dubbed “the genius of Jewish cooking,” Solomonov was born in Israel in 1978, and raised in Pittsburgh. His Philadelphia restaurant Zahav has become renowned for serving modern Israeli food. According to Solomonov, the Israeli cuisine “is full of delicious contradictions… A succulent array of dozens of distinct cuisines,” he says in the new documentary film In Search of Israeli Cuisine, which recently debuted.
Over the past years, Solomonov has been recognized for his accomplishments by The New York Times, Esquire Magazine and Condé Nast Traveler, to name a few. In 2014, he was named Eater’s National Chef of the Year.
With his business partner Steven Cook, Solomonov owns several Philadelphia restaurants, including Abe Fisher, which serves Eastern European Jewish dishes; and Dizengoff, which serves popular Israeli dishes like shakshuka and pita bread. Their flagship restaurant, Zahav (“gold,” in Hebrew), serves Israeli, Jewish and Middle Eastern dishes with a modern twist, including chicken shishlik, stuffed grape leaves and laffa bread with hummus and salads.
Opened in 2008, Zahav is designed like the hidden courtyards of Jerusalem, with golden limestone floors and walls, hand-carved tables, and soaring ceilings.
Another nod to Shaya
In addition to Solomonov, The James Beard Foundation has named a chef from the Israeli restaurant Shaya, Zachary Engel, this year’s “Rising Star Chef of the Year.”
Opened in February 2015 by Israeli chef Alon Shaya, Shaya serves sophisticated versions of Israeli dishes in the heart of New Orleans. It serves such Israeli platters as hummus, falafel, pita bread, shakshuka and tahini. Last year, Shaya was named America’s Best New Restaurant by The James Beard Foundation.