Israeli-American Michael Solomonov Wins Top U.S. Chef Award

Michael Solomonov of Philadephia's Zahav wins James Beard Foundation top prize for his modern Israeli cuisine

Award-winning Israeli-American chef Michael Solomonov.
Michael Solomonov Steve Legato

Philadelphia chef Michael Solomonov, praised for his modern Israeli cuisine, struck gold by winning the top U.S. chef prize from the James Beard Foundation on Monday. 

In 2008, Solomonov, who was born in Israel and grew up in Pittsburgh, opened Zahav, which means "gold" in Hebrew. He turned his focus on Israeli and Jewish cooking after his younger brother David, who served in the Israeli army, was killed on Yom Kippur in 2003. 

Solomonov, 38, has played an important role in heightening awareness of modern, sophisticated Israeli cuisine internationally. Just a few weeks ago, he opened his 10th eatery, a falafel joint in Philadelphia called Goldie.

Solomonov was also honored at last year's James Beard awards, when his and his partner Steven Cook's book "Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking" took both Book of the Year and the International Book Award.

The chef is also the star of a new documentary about Israeli Jewish and Arab cuisine, which tells his own touching, personal story as well. "In Search of Israeli Cuisine" was released in March and is now playing across the United States, as well as being available on a number of streaming services.

Mexican restaurant Topolobampo in Chicago, owned by celebrity chef Rick Bayless, was named best U.S. restaurant after Bayless' other restaurant Frontera Grill won the same award a decade earlier. 

Topolobampo was the second restaurant in a row from Chicago to win the top U.S. restaurant award. Alinea, known for its elaborate, avant-garde cuisine, won last year. 

Bayless' restaurant, which was opened in 1989, has remained popular with diners and critics for its modern, creative twists on Mexican cuisine. 

Bayless won the best U.S. chef award in 1995. 

The awards ceremony, the biggest for the U.S. restaurant industry, took place in Chicago. 

Ghaya Oliveira at Michelin-starred Daniel in New York City was named the nation's top pastry chef, while Mark Furstenberg of Bread Furst in Washington was awarded for his excellence in baking. 

New York City's Le Coucou took the prize for best new U.S. restaurant, while its owner Stephen Starr was named the nation's outstanding restaurateur. 

Zachary Engel at Shaya in New Orleans was cited "rising star chef." 

In other key categories, the foundation awarded Michelin-starred Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, its prize for outstanding service. 

Canlis in Seattle took the prize for best wine program, while Arnaud's French 75 Bar in New Orleans claimed the top award for its bar program.