After a shift, what is your favorite guilty pleasure to eat? “Pork with clams, chilies and stuffed peppers from Tai Lake, one of my favorite restaurants in Philly’s underrated Chinatown.”
Is there one dish you won’t cook? “I’m pretty open to cooking anything. If there’s a dish that I have an ethical problem with though, like cooking dolphin, then I’d think twice about it.”
All-time favorite spice. “Oh, that’s tough. Baharat, because it does it all. It’s sweet and savory and spicy all at once. It’s that warm holiday spice that interacts just as well with caramelized onions, lamb and any grilled meat, as it does with pumpkin, vanilla and cream.”
What is your favorite music to listen to while you cook? “Early ’90s hip hop.”
Did you grow up cooking as a kid? “No, I was a super picky eater as a kid. I started eating when I started cooking, which was after I had grown up just a bit.”
What cookbook is your go-to resource for inspiration? “It’s so hard to pick just one. I read many, but it’s usually not for the recipes—it’s for the vibes. Like The Provence of Alain Ducasse—I loved reading Ducasse’s cookbook because of his relationship with the region and the land. That’s more inspiring than the recipes alone.”
After all these years working in restaurants do you still enjoy going out to eat? “Of course. I love the interaction between the team and the guest. Hospitality is a transcript of something much deeper. But, at the end of the day, I like being part of the hospitality more than I like being a guest or dining. But they’re both equally wonderful.”
Is there one chef you’d like to cook with? “Jean-Louis Palladin because the way he handled food was truly amazing. He almost made it float with those gentle hands.”
Name the all-time best cooking show. “Julia Child reruns are amazing.”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “A baby offset spatula because there’s nothing it can’t do.”
James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov is the co-owner of the restaurant group, CookNSolo, which includes Philadelphia’s acclaimed modern Israeli establishment Zahav. He’s also co-author of cookbooks, Zahav, Federal Donuts, and the new Israeli Soul that comes out this October. On September 27, he co-hosts the Audi FEASTIVAL in Philly that benefits arts organization FringeArts. Tickets are still available.
Interview has been condensed and edited.