Tucked away at a petting zoo in Kfar Saba Park, amongst squawking birds and ostriches peeking over low cages, Mike Solomonov welcomed guests to a special dinner marking the 10-year anniversary of the death of his brother, who was killed while serving in the IDF. The dinner, organized by Solomonov, included his brother David’s old friends, their parents, and some of the top chefs dominating the culinary scene in the United States today. Mike Solomonov, himself a James Beard-recognized chef, organized the dinner as part of a 10-day tour of Israel that he is leading for the group of chefs based in the United States. Following his younger brother’s death at the hands of snipers on the border with Lebanon, Solomonov felt himself drawn more and more to Israeli food. At the time of the death, Solomonov was working as a chef at an Italian restaurant in Philadelphia. Speaking to the crowd in Kfar Saba on Saturday, Solomonov told how he was struck by the permanence of David’s death in the years immediately following. This feeling evolved as he became more active in promoting Israeli food to the world. “Whatever the relationship I have to Dave is, I feel strengthens the more and more I can share it. I can share whatever life he had with people,” Solomonov told the dinner guests.
This feeling of connection has helped motivate Solomonov to be a major voice for Israeli food in the United States. Many of the chefs in the group that he is leading have been honored on both the national and international level, including Michelin star recognition and James Beard nominations and winners. The group includes award-winning cookbook author Joan Nathan, Chipotle Culinary Manager Nate Appleman, Chef Mourad Lahlou of Aziza, Chef Alon Shaya of Domenica, and Chef Jonathon Sawyer of The Greenhouse Tavern, amongst other notables. Many of these chefs are experiencing Israel and its culinary scene for the first time in their lives. Solomonov said that one of his favorite parts of the trip so far was cooking for that evening’s meal with the group, and letting each chef “just do their own thing.” The menu for the meal in Kfar Saba highlighted seasonal Israeli ingredients such as roasted eggplant and squash, Jerusalem artichoke with sun-dried cherry tomatoes, beef and lamb meatballs stewed in tomatoes, stuffed vegetables with lamb and a white tuna escabeche poached in olive oil.
As the meal was coming to an end, Solomonov and his mother spoke to the guests about their memories of David and the importance of marking that day. Solomonov concluded by expressing gratitude to all who had come to remember his brother: “We actually have tons of you that flew here 5,000 miles and have eaten yourselves into a stupor with almost no rest, just to get to know him and you have no idea how much that means to me.”