Michael Solomonov, chef and owner of the landmark Zahav restaurant in Philadelphia, made history when he won the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef award in 2017, the American food “Oscar.” It was the first time a chef making Israeli food won the highest prize in American food-making. A year before, Solmonov won two other prizes. The James Beard Foundation awarded him first prize for best cookbook of the year and another award for the best international cookbook, saying he provided an experience that links the reader to Israeli food.
Now Solomonov is publishing a new book, “Israeli Soul: Easy, Essential, Delicious,” which is basically about Israeli spirit and soul. If in his previous book Solmonov dealt with his own personal tastes and focused on his own life story, the new book deals with Israeli street food and the more popular restaurants.
Solomonov is doing this at a time when the Israeli kitchen is winning international recognition and Israeli restaurants are gaining the esteem of world culinary experts. Solomonov takes the reader back to the roots of Israeli food, from the food stands featuring such items as falafel and sabich.
Zahav, as Solomonov describes it, is a restaurant providing food inspired by the modern Israeli kitchen. The restaurant has been operating for 10 years, and it’s around the top of the American eateries list. As a result, it’s almost impossible to get a table there. Even if Israelis may say they don’t understand all the hoopla about Zahav, there’s still one thing you can’t take away from Solomonov: He has upgraded Israeli food and recognition as an elite cuisine, more than just street food.
With seven crew members, Solmonov set out on a tour of Israel in order to write his book. They visited 82 restaurants. They were disappointed in two of them, which Solmonov doesn’t identify by name and which he doesn’t include in the book. Doing some impressive work for the book is Solomonov’s regular photographer Michael Persico. His photos simply whet your appetite.
Via his book, Solomon seeks to stress the variety of food available in Israel, unlike most other places in the world. For example, in Givat Olga he found a falafel stand, a burekas shop and a kebab place next to one each other, and all were excellent.
“I saw the beauty of Israeli street food, “ Solmonov says in an interview with Haaretz. “You get three different restaurants from three different worlds in a 100-meter stretch and all of them are authentic. Where else would you find this kind of diversity?” When I ask him the name of a restaurant he really liked, he quickly replies: “Without a doubt, Morris in Mahane Yehuda. Simply wonderful.”
Solomonov is doing a book promotion tour in Boston, Seattle, Chicago, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and that’s just a partial list. America is at his feet, he’s like a rock star on tour.
Does his book have any value for Israelis? Solmonov believes it does. “You’d be amazed at how many Israelis don’t know the small places featuring great falafel and sabich. Even if they heard of this or that spot, most of them have never been there. These stands usually just serve people locally. I promise you that many Israelis may know of the falafel stand called Devorah in Karkur, but never ate there. So even Israelis have something to learn from this book, I’d say. I would suggest that Israelis tour around the country more and taste food at these places. They wouldn’t be wasting their time.”