Chef Michael Solomonov opens up about his new award, the documentary and his charitable partnerships.
Chef Michael Solomonov talks vegan falafel, charitable collaborations and his newest claim to culinary fame: a James Beard Award.
If any Philadelphian deserves a James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef, it’s Michael Solomonov, who finally snagged the culinary nod in May. From elevating earthy Israeli cuisine to an inventive art form with the opening of his first restaurant, Zahav, to penning his first cookbook ( Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking) with partner Steven Cook ( cooknsolo.com), to filming his documentary, In Search of Israeli Cuisine, with director Roger Sherman that’s being released on DVD this fall, the award-winning chef ’s talents across all platforms are certainly a force to be reckoned with. In addition to these individual projects that alone are worthy of the glittering prize, Solomonov also turned hummus into a Center City staple with the unveiling of Dizengoff; developed Federal Donuts and Dizengoff in other cities; and opened Rooster Soup Co. diner with the aid of Broad Street Ministry Hospitality Collaborative, whose profits help care for Philly’s homeless.
What’s the least generic answer you can give about winning a James Beard Award?
My award was at the end of a three-anda- half- hour ceremony, and I spent all that time trying not to look like I cared.
What does a Beard do for you, both professionally and personally?
It’s more for Steve [Cook] and I and our restaurant group Cooknsolo— something for the team. It also happened on the anniversary of Israeli Independence Day, so it’s a win for Israel too.
People are captivated by the documentary and the customized food tours that Roger Sherman is running in Israel this fall. What’s in store for the future of that program?
My friend Avi Tsabari, who is in the film and runs the culinary school there, is a big par t of this. It’s a lot of back- and- for th travel, but well wor th it.
How is the partnership with Broad Street Ministry going at Rooster Soup Co.?
Don’t forget we opened Goldie (a vegan falafel shop), too, above Rooster at the same time. Each time we open something, we’re learning everything over again. The Ministry partnership means listening to team members concerned with helping people and is our move into the nonprofit world. That’s a win-win for me. Plus, Rooster’s food is great.
You’re opening Federal Donuts and Dizengoff out of town. How do you feel about the Philly food scene?
Objectively speaking, there’s an energy to this city— its food and the culture of that food— that hasn’t been here in a long time. I’m jazzed.