In addition to being a cookbook author, Chef Michael Solomonov now runs several restaurants. In addition to being a cookbook author, Chef Michael Solomonov now runs several restaurants. In addition to being a cookbook author, Chef Michael Solomonov now runs several restaurants. (Photo: Lisa Lake / Getty Images)

Is this America's best chef?

Michael Solomonov has been racking up the awards this year. Up next? A new Manhattan restaurant.

Michael Solomonov is having a decidedly great 2016, and the year's not even half over. The Philadelphia-based chef released the documentary "In Search of Israeli Cuisine," which has been making its way to film festivals around the world and will have a theatrical release this summer.

"Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking," his cookbook based on the dishes served at his popular Philly restaurant, was published to rave reviews.

And then came the James Beard Awards, the so-called Oscars of the restaurant industry. In 2011, he won the award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic, but this year he's kicked it up a notch. Last week came word that he won the coveted James Beard Award for Best International Cookbook and Book of the Year.

But that's not all: He's also been nominated in the Outstanding Chef category. The winner of that prestigious award will be announced Monday night at a gala event in Chicago. "I'm extremely honored," he told From The Grapevine by phone. "I'm really excited and really fired up. Outstanding chef is a really big deal."

Solomonov's rise to fame is part of a larger nationwide trend toward Mediterranean food. Last year's James Beard Award for Best Chef: South went to Alon Shaya for his Israeli-New Orleans fusion restaurant.

Solomonov tells us he's not surprised that Israeli cuisine is popular in the U.S. right now. "It's relatively healthy, it's very vegetable-forward cooking. I think it's here to stay. It's kind of having a moment right now, but I think it's the start of something bigger."

zahav restaurant The evening atmosphere at Michael Solomonov's Zahav Restaurant in Philadelphia. (Photo: Zahav Restaurant)

And the 37-year-old chef is part of that growth. In addition to his flagship restaurant Zahav, he opened a second Israeli-themed restaurant in Philadelphia called Dizengoff, named after the iconic shopping district in Tel Aviv, Israel. And later this month, he will open a second Dizengoff location in the bustling Chelsea Market section of Manhattan. In anticipation of its launch, Bloomberg Business called it one of the 26 most exciting restaurant openings in the world. The hummus-themed eatery will serve shakshouka all day.

With all the hoopla surrounding him, Solomonov admits that the awards piling up around him can have a downside. "I'm really trying to not let it distract us from everything else that's going on," he said.


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Is this America's best chef?
Chef Michael Solomonov of Zahav in Philadelphia may just be the next James Beard Award winner, an honored bestowed upon the country’s top culinary talent.