DeGustibus at Macy’s Herald Square was packed to capacity when Michael Solomonov cooked there on March 5. The delicious two-and-a-half hour demonstration was the second in an over-subscribed series of two kosher cooking classes at the famed New York cooking school.
Solomonov is the executive chef of Philadelphia’s newest landmark for kosher cuisine, Citron and Rose, as well as chef at the European-Jewish influenced fine dining establishment Zahav. His kitchens have garnered international fame for their unique combination of multi-national and multi-traditional Jewish cooking reinterpreted with contemporary flair. Michael combines European and Sephardic Jewish techniques, incorporating his love of tradition with commitment to contemporary tastes, taking kosher cooking to a whole new dimension.
Solomonov’s fertile imagination and cooking creativity was fueled by his early exposure to multiple cuisines. Born in Israel, the chef spent most of his childhood in America, returning to Israel for high school. He says his kitchen experience in Israel improved his culinary artistry and significantly improved his Hebrew skills. “You learn fast,” he told his DeGustibus class. He has created menus that draw on Jewish culinary traditions from wherever in the world Jews have lived or wandered, from Central and Eastern Europe to the Middle East, around the Mediterranean and even America.
Solomonov won the prestigious James Beard award for Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic in 2011, an unprecedented acknowledgement for a kosher chef. Sal Rizzo, then a director at the Beard Foundation and now owner of DeGustibus, met Solomonov during that time.
Solomonov cooks with ease and elegance. As he prepares, he discusses the translation of food as culture and the food traditions—amassed by the Jews during their European sojourns—as the rich source for the wide variety of kosher cuisine. He discussed the creativity Jews used to develop substitutions for foods not within the confines of kosher requirements, finding ingredients that keep his recipes completely Glatt Kosher (the mashgiach was standing there throughout his Degustibus presentation). As an example, he cited the use of goose fat as a replacement for non-kosher alternatives, or the use of seaweed based, vegetarian agar to replace non-kosher animal gelatins.
As he cooked, Solomonov spoke about his own family’s migrations. “My grandmother,” he said, “brought borekas (a crisp pastry filled with selections of potato, mushroom, spinach, cheese, etc) to Israel!” Yehuda, his cooking companion and colleague at Citron and Rose, brings Hungarian Jewish cooking to the enterprise.
Solomonov has created menus that draw on Jewish culinary traditions from wherever in the world Jews have lived or wandered,
The audience gathered for Solomonov’s evening class, as indicated by its varied dress and accents, reflected the wide diversity of kosher “foodies.” From the sophisticated to the heimish, the community was singularly focused on food. The chef was completely at ease—and in charge—as he demonstrated the preparations for each of the courses of the event’s delicious menu.
Beginning with an appetizer of one of Citron and Rose’s notable made-on-premises salamis, he shared technique and advice (25% fat is just right, Solomanov assured). As the somewhat small portions were passed to the diners already primed with sparkling Perseco, they were more than ready to nosh.
A gourmet knish followed as a second course. Solomonov advised on the preparation of the light dough that wrapped a rich mushroom-kasha filling; Chef Yehuda suggested using mushroom caps for the filling, and made excellent use of the stems as a base for stock.
Entree preparation began with advice on the creation of an ancient egg: “Coffee, not coffee grounds,” cautioned the chef. “It’s awfully crunchy otherwise.” The braised lamb shank was tender and rich—few left more than a bit of bone behind. The dining experience concluded with an ending of poached pear tidbits which complimented an individual bobka, amazingly easy to format.
Royal Wines is the exclusive provider of kosher wines for DeGustibus’ kosher cooking classes. Selections are made by Shlomo Blashka, the company’s Wine and Spirits Educator. “Once the menus are created, a selection of appropriate wines is made. For the Citron and Roses demonstration, Blashka selected Bartenura Perseco, a sparkling non-vintage white wine, Herzog Reserve Russian River, a California white, 2010, and Baron Herzog Haut Medoc, a mellow Red, 2010. “These are all really good wines at a great price point,” said Blashka.
A spectacular session with Solomonov! This was a gourmet dinng experience defined by delicacies, certainly not one for diets.
By Maxine Dovere