It’s no secret that Israeli restaurateur Michael Solomonov is a darling of the culinary world—and he’s got the hardware to prove it. With three James Beard Foundation Awards under his belt, including, most recently, a 2016 Cookbook of the Year prize for Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, Solomonov is in the running for a few more Beard Awards this year.
Consider yourself lucky if you’ve eaten at one of his Philadelphia restaurants—the hallmark Israeli eatery Zahav, the Jewish diaspora-inspired Abe Fisher, the hummusiya Dizengoff, the philanthropic-minded Rooster Soup Co., and Federal Donuts, a shop serving gourmet fried chicken and doughnuts that really just sells transcendent moments of indulgence. (The strawberry-lavender doughnut is heaven on earth, don’t argue with me on this one.)
Zahav is a semifinalist for Outstanding Service, and Solomonov could earn Outstanding Chef recognition for his kitchen mastery there. Additionally, his Zahav colleague Camille Cogswell is up for Rising Star Chef of the Year, while Tova du Plessis, the Jewish owner of South Philly’s Essen Bakery (and a former line cook at the Israeli restaurant), is nominated for Outstanding Baker.
Those who haven’t dined at Zahav (myself included) can get a good sense of Solomonov’s ethos and passion by reading Liel Leibovitz’s article on the restaurant. He describes how Solomonov
cooks with the confidence of a man for whom this culinary diversity is a bounty, not an abstraction or a complication. He is guided not by some convoluted idea but by a real and searing passion for this food. He can be sophisticated and complex—try the Brussels sprouts baba ganoush that comes with the lovely sirloin shishlik—or straightforward, depending on the dish or the mood. He is engaged in a labor of love—no small triumph in a field that increasingly champions noisy distractions and empty theatrics—and it’s his love that gives all these distinct traditions and their disparate ingredients a coherence that feels not only natural but inevitable.
The winners won’t be announced until May, but it seems like the proof for another Solomonov nod is in the hummus.