Name: Mike Solomonov
Profession: Chef, Cookbook Author
How did you come to do what you do?
After dropping out of college, I worked in a bakery in Israel when I was 19. I was also a line cook at a café. Cooking was something I loved to do, and was relatively good at, and my family was really supportive like they always are.
How did the idea of bringing Israeli food to Philadelphia come about, and at what point?
We realized no one was making the Israeli food I grew up on, and it really just came naturally, from visiting family and bringing it back. I knew I had to translate this food that I loved for the American palate. And that’s how the idea for opening Zahav came about.
After you wrote Zahav, why did you think the follow-up book was needed?
Israeli Soul is really about Israel and street food, almost the opposite approach of Zahav.
The focus is on simple, everyday Israeli food that’s accessible and approachable.
I want people to experience the exotic smells and delicious flavors of Israel, but still be able to recreate them in a small, perhaps ill-equipped NYC kitchen.
What is your favorite Jewish holiday or tradition?
Eating in a sukkah is pretty amazing. And cheesecake on Shavuot. Shabbat is also a special time that I wish I could celebrate every week, but I have to work at the restaurant.
Favorite food that you associate with Judaism?
There is not one particular food, that’s hard to say.
Earliest memory of being Jewish?
When my brother was born, I was three and remember seeing him in his little crib. I remember looking at my dad and saying “this is my brother David, and he is Jewish.” That wasn’t the first time that I knew, but it was a very early memory of being cognizant that we were Jewish.
How do you incorporate Judaism into your daily life?
Beyond food, most days I wrap tefillin in the morning and say Shema throughout the day.
What’s on the horizon?
There are a couple of exciting projects in the next year, that I’m not yet at liberty to discuss. They are more Israeli-geared and will be here in Philly.