Chef Michael Solomonov From Israel With Love
Defining Israeli cuisine by creating simple food with layers of flavor
By Marla Horn Lazarus
The 2017 James Beard Award winner for “Outstanding Chef,” Michael Solomonov transforms simple foods into culinary masterpieces. Born in Israel, raised in Pittsburgh until age 15, Solomonov moved back to Israel to work in a bakery. “I just stumbled upon food and was amazed,” he told International Opulence. He enjoyed preparing flaky burekas and the fond memories it revived of he and his grandmother making them together.
Upon returning, Solomonov studied at the Florida Culinary Institute and spent time in South Florida restaurants before moving to Philadelphia. In 2009, he opened Zahav, meaning gold, evoking ‘the sun sparkling on Jerusalem stone.’ It gave the chef a stage to trail blaze his interpretation of Israeli cooking – and it also served a very personal purpose. You see, Michael had lost his brother, David, to sniper fire while he served in the Israeli Army. “It changes one’s identity after going through that kind of trauma, and it made the path I was going to take become clear: I felt that through this restaurant, I could share the experience of my brother’s life with everyone.”
A Closer Look at Zahav
As executive chef/co-owner of Zahav, Solomonov brought authentic Israeli flavors to Philadelphia and beyond – earning him accolades. In May, at the Lyric Opera House in Chicago, when the presenter of the ‘Outstanding Chef’ 2017 James Beard Award announced Solomonov’s name, the chef recalled, “It was a magical and exciting experience. It was coincidental that it was also Israeli Independence Day!”
At Zahav, Solomonov serves hummus, including masabacha, a light Palestinian version of chickpeas immersed in tahini, and a Turkish variety served warm with butter. “When I became a chef, Israeli cuisine excited me because of the many types and styles,” he said.
The talented chef’s previous culinary awards include the 2016 James Beard Award for “Best International Cookbook” and “Book of the Year” for his co-authored first cookbook Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking; and the 2011 James Beard Award for “Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic.” In addition to Zahav, Solomonov co-owns restaurants Federal Donuts, Dizengoff, Abe Fisher, Goldie and the philanthropic Rooster Soup Company, donating 100 percent of its profits to Broad Street Ministry Hospitality Collaborative.
For Solomonov, inspiration comes in many forms. “My frequent travels to Israel, eating in restaurants and people’s homes all come together. I start with classic dishes and re-create them with local ingredients, making them my own,” he said.
An Honor of Heritage
The Israel Ministry of Tourism named Chef Solomonov a Culinary Ambassador, raising awareness of Israel’s vibrant and diverse global cuisine. “I like to get everyone fired up to be generous and gracious with guests,” he said. “My motto is: ‘If I could, I would pick everyone up, put them on my back and run to Israel.’ Since I can’t, I need to represent Israel to its fullest and get people excited.”
Now in South Florida
Chef Solomonov recently opened venues in Miami. Enjoy Israeli-style pastry at Federal Donuts, and taste Middle Eastern delights at Dizengoff, located side by side at 250 NW 24th Street.
Marla Horn Lazarus is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. She is International Opulence magazine’s newest culinary columnist and also author of the food blog ‘A Culinary Creation.’