Last night we had the pleasure of sitting down to dinner with Pennsylvania chef Michael Solomonov, the man behind Zahav, a modern Israeli restaurant named the best place to eat in Philadelphia last year. Born in Israel, Solomonov was raised in Pittsburgh until he went back to Israel at 19, scoring a job in a bakery — skills he still puts to use each day at Zahav, which makes its own traditional Israeli laffa bread in a traditional Israeli wood-burning oven called a taboon. In Philadephia these days, that bread can share space on your plate with a whole-roasted lamb shoulder braised in pomegranate juice or grilled duck hearts served with carrot-turnip salad and pureed alliums.
As we talked about the steep wholesale price of organic lemons (30 cents per!) and record high prices for lamb (both killers for a Middle Eastern establishment like Zahav, where those are key components of the cuisine) we realized that like so many of the country’s best chefs today, Solomonov blends tradition with modern techniques and ideas and attention to pristine ingredients. And that’s why he’s one of the many guest chefs who’ll be cooking at the 2011 James Beard Foundation Awards for chefs and cookbooks, which takes place one week from today at Lincoln Center.
The theme this year is Melting Pot–something we’re big fans of showcasing here at Edible Manhattan, in fact it’s one of our ongoing columns. And to participate, chefs with immigrant backgrounds or international specialties like Solomanov, who has himself been nominated twice for Beard awards, are this weekend headed to Manhattan from their kitchens around the country to showcase their own particular take on their food cultures for attendees.
If you’ve never been — tickets are still available, FYI — the after-show grub fest is pretty spectacular, and this year’s should be intense thanks to the 25 chefs flown in from around the country to make stuff like sushi by way of Texas and Manhattan, molecular gastronomy from D.C.; Thai from Portland, Ore. and Las Vegas, pan-Asian from a Malaysian chef in San Francisco, modern Greek by way of Atlanta, tapas from the Los Angeles suburbs, modern Indian from Manhattan, South American from Miami and of course, Solomanov’s Philadelphia Israeli. It sounds like America, and it sounds pretty tasty to us.
Hopefully it’ll be a celebratory dinner for those of us here at Edible, too, as our publisher and contributor, Brian Halweil, is up for an award for his profile on Joan Gussow in this very magazine at the James Beard Foundation Journalism awards this Friday night. Wish him luck! And a healthy appetite.