The last place you’d expect to see the winner of one of the world’s most prestigious culinary awards just a week after receiving the news would be cooking at the side of an old bus in the Jerusalem Hills, but then Michael Solomonov definitely isn’t your usual kind of chef.

On May 1, by coincidence Israel’s Independence Day, Israeli-born Solomonov was honored with the Outstanding Chef Award at the James Beard Foundation Awards in Chicago. Just 10 days later, he was on a plane to Israel for a special cookout as part of a culinary tour arranged a year earlier.

Solomonov has blazed a trail in the American culinary scene since 2008 when he opened the award-winning Israeli fusion restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia, followed by three other renowned restaurants — Dizengoff, which sells hummus and Israeli salads; Goldie, a falafel joint; and Abe Fisher, which serves up Jewish world cuisine. New restaurants will follow shortly in Miami.

His goal, right from the start, has been to put Israeli-inspired dishes and Israeli-produced ingredients on American plates.

Solomonov is also no stranger to the James Beard Awards. He was a semifinalist Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2008 and 2009, and in 2010 was nominated in the Best Chefs in America category.

He was also semifinalist Outstanding Chef in 2015 and was nominated as Outstanding Chef again last year. In 2016, Solomonov and business partner Steve Cook won two Beard awards for their cookbook, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking.

Despite his incredible success in the US, Solomonov has always remained true to his Israeli roots.

The idea for his visit this May first arose in the wake of a tasting event hosted by ISRAEL21c at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival for the premiere of the film “In Search of Israeli Cuisine” last August.

Members of the culinary tour get to work. Photo by Nicky Blackburn

Solomonov, who stars in the film by Roger Sherman and lent his star power to the reception, was approached by San Franciscan Liki Abrams with the idea of arranging a short culinary tour to Israel for several couples from the Bay area, to explore Israel’s burgeoning culinary scene.

The tour was arranged by Avihai Tsabari, founder and CEO of Via Sabra tours. ISRAEL21c was given an exclusive invite to film the occasion.

Using an old cooking stove and plenty of willing sous-chefs, Solomonov made an impromptu menu of meatballs in tomato sauce, roasted eggplant in tahini, rice, freshly baked pita, celery salad and parsley salad, using fresh ingredients purchased the day before from the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv.

“Michael was a delight; personable, lovable and fun,” said Dr. Murray Zucker, who was a participant in the culinary trip.

There was even enough food left to invite two hikers who happened to be walking past on their trek along the 1,015-km Israel Trail.

Click on the video above to see Michael Solomonov in action with Renny Grinshpan, for 21see.

Executive Producer – Jonathan Baruch
Producer / Director – Haim Silberstein
Host – Renny Grinshpan
DP – Dan Lior
Editing – Shahar Beeri
Color Grading – Ari Amit
Sound – Oren Sharon