Mediterranean cuisine wins big at the James Beard Awards

Find out why Zachary Engel and Michael Solomonov received 2 of the highest honors of the food world.

When the Oscars of the food world starts and ends in the Mediterranean, you know you're witnessing a major leap forward in the culinary arts.

Chef Zachary Engel of Shaya, a pioneering Israeli-influenced eatery in New Orleans that's been raking in top culinary awards since opening only three years ago, was named Rising Star Chef of the Year to kick off the James Beard Foundation's 2017 awards ceremony on Monday night.

Zachary Engel of Shaya restaurant won Rising Star Chef in the James Beard Awards.Florida-born Zachary Engel won is an award-winning Mediterranean chef. (Photo: YouTube screenshot)

And the last award of the night went to Israeli-born Michael Solomonov, who's turned his flagship restaurant Zahav into a Philadelphia landmark, known for dynamite hummus, fresh-baked pita and homestyle treasures like roasted eggplant and bourekas.

zahav restaurant The authentic Mediterranean hummus at Zahav restaurant is just one of many mouth-watering Israeli dishes on the menu. (Photo: Zahav Restaurant)

In a fun culinary coincidence, the Florida-born Engel actually worked for Solomonov at Zahav until 2015. Engel eventually returned to New Orleans and became chef de cuisine at Shaya. Engel and Solomonov are good friends who have known each other much of their lives.

And on Monday night, they celebrated culinary stardom together – Engel as a newbie (this is his first Beard Award, though his boss, Alon Shaya, won Best Chef-South in 2015), and Solomonov as a veteran (he won Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic in 2011 and Best Cookbook in 2016 for "Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking").

You can watch Solomonov's acceptance of his Outstanding Chef Award in the video above.

Below, you can watch Engel's nomination clip:

On the night, New Orleans and Philadelphia were both repeat winners. In addition to from Solomonov's victory, the Outstanding Restaurateur award went to Philly food legend Stephen Starr, who was also feted for his NYC hotspot Le Coucou as the Best New Restaurant in that region.

In the Big Easy, French 75 won for Outstanding Bar Program; and Rebecca Wilcomb of Herbsaint took home a regional Best Chef medal.

But the real winner, it seems, is Mediterranean cuisine. Engel's Shaya and Solomonov's Zahav are just a sampling of the incredible offerings that are coming out of the Mediterranean culinary world. It's a style known for good health, knock-out flavor and vast experimentation, and with Solomonov's food documentary "In Search of Israeli Cuisine" now in theaters, it's a trend showing no signs of slowing.

Chef Michael Solomonov traveled to Israel for a culinary tour that was the basis for the documentary "In Search of Israeli Cuisine."Chef Michael Solomonov traveled to Israel for a culinary tour that was the basis for the documentary "In Search of Israeli Cuisine." (Photo: Florentine Films)


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Related Topics: Chefs & Restaurants