Last night’s James Beard Awards dropped a double bombshell on Zahav’s Michael Solomonov. First he was surprised to learn that he bested Cathal Armstrong for the Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic honor, and then taken aback again when the announcer pronounced his name correctly. “It was a really tough competition this year,” Solomonov told Grub Street this morning. “Coming from a guy whose name is always mispronounced, it was sort of surreal to hear them say it right.”
Solomonov is the second Vetri alum to win the award in two years. Last year it went to Osteria’s Jeff Michaud. Vetri himself was in the running for this year’s Outstanding Restaurant Award, but lost to Danny Meyer’s Eleven Madison Park.
After wrapping up celebrations at Eleven Madison Park’s after party at 2:30 a.m., Solomonov took Percy Street pit mistress Erin O’Shea and his sous chef Dean from Zahav out for a bite too eat. “We just went to a diner and celebrated with shitty cheeseburgers,” Solomonov sadi. “We were so hungry.”
What’s next for the James Beard Award-winner? Lunch in New York’s Chinatown and then a return to Philly. Back at Zahav, he plans to make some changes. “The fact that we’ve gotten this recognition now, means that we can probably push the envelope a little more,” Solomonov said. “I think people’s expectations are going to be higher, so raising the bar on all levels will be the primary focus.”
He adds that the worries a little about how his staff will react to his newly heightened sense of enthusiasm. “I feel a little bit bad for my staff, because sometimes I have these energy and intensity issues,” he explained. “But the reason we got the award in the first place is because of them. I think everyone will be up for the challenge.”