May 2, 2017 / 2:28 AM / 3 years ago

Israeli-born chef strikes gold with top U.S. prize

(Reuters) - Philadelphia chef Michael Solomonov, praised for his modern Israeli cuisine, struck gold by winning the top U.S. chef prize from the James Beard Foundation on Monday.

Mexican restaurant Topolobampo in Chicago, owned by celebrity chef Rick Bayless, was named best U.S. restaurant after Bayless’ other restaurant Frontera Grill won the same award a decade earlier.

In 2008, Solomonov who was born near in Israel and grew up in Pittsburgh opened Zahav, which means “gold” in Hebrew. He turned his focus on Israeli and Jewish cooking after his younger brother David who served in the Israeli army was killed on Yom Kippur in 2003.

The popularity of cuisines from Israel and the Middle East has grown in recent years, led by chefs including Solomonov in the United States and Yotam Ottolenghi in Britain.

Topolobampo was the second restaurant in a row from Chicago to win the top U.S. restaurant award. Alinea, known for its elaborate, avant-garde cuisine, won last year.

Bayless’ restaurant, which was opened in 1989, has remained popular with diners and critics for its modern, creative twists on Mexican cuisine.

Bayless won the best U.S. chef award in 1995.

The awards ceremony, the biggest for the U.S. restaurant industry, took place in Chicago.

Ghaya Oliveira at Michelin-starred Daniel in New York City was named the nation’s top pastry chef, while Mark Furstenberg of Bread Furst in Washington was awarded for his excellence in baking.

New York City’s Le Coucou took the prize for best new U.S. restaurant, while its owner Stephen Starr was named the nation’s outstanding restaurateur.

Zachary Engel at Shaya in New Orleans was cited “rising star chef.”

In other key categories, the foundation awarded Michelin-starred Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, its prize for outstanding service.

Canlis in Seattle took the prize for best wine program, while Arnaud’s French 75 Bar in New Orleans claimed the top award for its bar program.

Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli

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