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Michael Solomonov: The Chef Who Manned up in the Kitchen

He's won the most prestigious awards in the restaurant world, expanded a worldwide business, and fought for the needy. The first step? Conquering his own demons.

"To be in the best shape of my life at 38- it feels amazing,” says star Philadelphia-via-Israel chef and restaurateur Michael Solomonov, who credits his un-chefly physique to boxing workouts, year-round surfing, and hotel stairwell laps, not just his vegetable-forward diet. 

And having a career peak after a decade-plus in the fickle restaurant world probably doesn’t feel so bad either. 

Last May, Solomonov’s first cookbook—titled Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, for the flagship restaurant he started with partner and co-author Steven Cook—won the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award, establishing him as the key player in bringing the eatery’s lesser-known cuisine, a Mediterranean diet heavy on fruits and vegetables, to mainstream mouths. This year he also opened a restaurant outside Philly, the first offshoot of Dizengoff, his hummusiya (hummus stall) in New York’s Chelsea Market, with more to open nationwide in the coming year. 

Giving back is also important for Solomonov, who almost lost everything in 2008 due to crack and heroin addictions. So this fall he and Cook, along with partners from Federal Donuts, are opening Rooster Soup, a luncheonette that will use his restaurants’ leftover chicken backs and bones, and donate 100% of its net profits to Philadelphia’s Broad Street Hospitality Collaborative—so your smoked brisket-fat matzo ball soup won’t only taste good, it’ll do good, providing food and services for the poor.

Solomonov says it’s his intensive regimen at Philly’s Joe Hand Boxing Gym that’s given him the physical and mental fortitude to beat down his demons and maintain seven years of sobriety. “Nothing’s more effective than a boxing workout,” he says. “It covers everything—coordination, speed, dexterity—which helps with the intensity of my job.

“And you get to punch shit.”

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