Steven Cook & Michael Solomonov: “Israeli Soul: Easy, Essential, Delicious” | Talks at Google

Steven Cook & Michael Solomonov: “Israeli Soul: Easy, Essential, Delicious” | Talks at Google

[MUSIC PLAYING] [APPLAUSE] SPEAKER: You guys have a pretty
impressive resume between you, six James Beard awards;
multiple, incredibly successful cookbooks; some of the
most interesting and unique restaurants, mostly in Philly. How is this experience with
this cookbook different for you? STEVEN COOK: Well,
our first cookbook is called “Zahav,” which is
the name of our restaurant that just turned 10 this year. SPEAKER: Oh, congratulations. STEVEN COOK: Yeah,
in dog years, it’s like a 70-year-old
restaurant, I think. SPEAKER: Especially
when it’s called the most influential, important
restaurant, food and wine, right? STEVEN COOK: People say a
lot of nice things about it. SPEAKER: A lot of
nice things about it. STEVEN COOK: So
that cookbook, which was our first, was really a
look at the food of Israel, but through the lens
of Mike as a chef and what we’re doing in
eastern Pennsylvania, with the products that
are available to us and the influences
of where we are. And “Israeli Soul” was really
based on an eight-day trip that we took to Israel. We 82 meals in those eight
days and, somehow, both managed to lose weight doing it. SPEAKER: So you need to
talk to me about that later because that sounds
like a perfect plan. STEVEN COOK: Kind of magical. So that was really an
attempt to, I think, go deeper into the
roots of the cuisine, because Israel encompasses
over 100 different cultures that many have been there
for thousands of years and many have come
within the last 70 years. So it’s really a complicated
complex food scene to unpack, which is what
we try to do in this book. SPEAKER: And it’s also
approachable for those of us who are just cooking
at home, yeah? MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Yeah. We wanted to, basically,
take everybody over there, immerse them in the
food, and then process it in my tiny, little,
crappy apartment with like ill-equipped kitchen. SPEAKER: I think we
all thank you for that. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: I know. So I was living in this one
bedroom apartment at the time and the deal was that if we
could make it in that kitchen, we could make it into a book. SPEAKER: That’s amazing. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Yeah. SPEAKER: What are you
going to make for us today? MICHAEL SOLOMONOV:
So we are going to make a couple of things. We’re going to make
Steve’s patented– you should have just done this. STEVEN COOK: I should
have patented it. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV:
It should have been years, not in the book. It’s a five minute hummus. Steve has four children
so to be able to make five minute hummus,
very important for the well-being
of the whole family. So five-minute hummus. We’re going to make
matbucha, which is like a North African sort
of condiment salad situation. And we’re going to make
zucchini schnitzel as well. And then we’re going
to put it all together. Yeah. SPEAKER: Sounds delicious. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: I hope. Yeah, you certainly
talked us up a lot. I hope that we don’t blow it. SPEAKER: I think actually
I underscored everything just slightly. I think you guys are
doing it yourself. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV:
Thank you so much. So really quickly, we’re
going to make the matbucha. And we’ve already started that
because this process takes a while to cook, all right. This is not like
competition TV cooking. A lot of this stuff,
most of the stuff, is actually from the
diaspora, and it’s like very grandmotherly. OK, so it’s not
about showing off. It’s really about soulful
stewing, very vegetable-heavy. And this is a fantastic
example of that. This is sort of a
condiment or it can be served as a salad course. When you sit down and
you get salad in Israel, it’s not like a Caesar salad
with black and mahi-mahi. It’s like seven or 12 tiny
little dishes that usually represent an entire
part of the world, or multiple parts of the world. And they’re room temperature,
and sometimes they’re cooked, or sometimes they’re raw
but very heavily seasoned. So this is olive
oil, garlic, onion, and peppers that we’ve
cooked for a very, very long time at a very low
heat with olive oil. We’re going to add
some salt to this. STEVEN COOK: Mike,
I have a question. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Yes, Steve. STEVEN COOK: So
this is originally from North Africa, right? MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Yes. STEVEN COOK: But basically,
almost every Israeli restaurant you walk into, you’ll
find this on the table. So how does something that’s
from one part of the world become part of the food
cuisine of an entire country? MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Well, I
mean, I think that’s the thing, because Israel is, at
one point, super young. It’s seven years old. But also the culture of Israel,
or the diaspora, that thousands of years have sort of brought
back all their cooking traditions. And the gastronomy is to
one tiny little place, everything is this
sort of mishmash. And you see it in
very quick, real time. I moved back to Israel. I was born there, but I
moved back in the ’80s, and there was a huge wave
of Ethiopian immigrants that nobody knew
about up until then. It was the sort of
like a lost tribe. They came back and now there’s
heavy use of fenugreek, teff. And Ethiopian cuisine is
part of the conversation now. So in the ’50s, the
Moroccans, the Libyans, and the Algerians– not yet the
Tunisians, I believe– moved back. They brought with them matbucha,
which is served, like I said, it could be a condiment,
it could be breakfast, it could be anything. Basically, every
kebab shop in Israel serves this as like,
“ketchup” or salsa. And, now, also when you sit
down in a restaurant in Israel and you’re presented
with a spicy condiment, it used to be harissa, but
the Yemenite Jews brought back zhug, which is also part of it. So it’s impossible to avoid this
tapestry of culture in Israel. It just happens. It just happens
sort of organically. Yeah? Did that answer your question. STEVEN COOK: I’m
satisfied, yeah. Thanks. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: You just
wrote an Israeli cookbook, you should know. We’re going to add
tomatoes to this and then we’re
going to cook this down for a very, very long time,
probably like an hour or so. What we want to do is get all
the water out of the tomatoes. It’ll get really, really sweet. STEVEN COOK: The hands-on time
here is, what, 10 minutes? And then you let it go. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Yeah. You’ll let it go on a
very low temperature for a very long time. And actually, what I’ll do
is put my oven at a very low temperature, like 200 degrees. I’ll start it at night
and then I’ll just put it in a cast iron,
or something like that, very lightly covered. And just rock it out
overnight, and when you wake up in the morning,
you’re like, is that coffee? Is that my matbucha? I don’t know. Also, if you’ve noticed, I’ve
been adding salt in layers. I don’t like just adding
all my seasoning at the end. I like to add. Whenever you add a new
component to this pot, I want it to taste
excellent by itself. That’s kind of the rule,
I think, with braising or with complex saucing
or sauce cooking, is every time you add a new
aromatic or another component, you want to treat it as
though you were going to eat this thing by yourself. So I always add a
little bit of salt. If you’re big fans
of spicy, or if you like coriander or paprika,
also add it in layers. The onions and the
peppers get seasoned. Tomatoes get seasoned. Cook it down and then
you finish at the end. That way, the flavor’s developed
and it’s not just one note. Also, we’re going to get started
with our zucchini schnitzel. Have you guys all
had schnitzel before? Steve, can you
tell them something anecdotal about
schnitzel in Israel? STEVEN COOK: I can. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Please. STEVEN COOK: I can. I mean, when Jews first
started coming back to Israel around the
turn of the 19th century, it was primarily German
Jews at that time, that wave of immigration, so that
schnitzel was a dish that they brought over to Israel. They very used to veal, which
wasn’t really available when they got to Palestine. And so chickens were a
lot cheaper and a lot more widely available, so
chicken schnitzel sort of became the unofficial
tourist food of Israel. Many of us encountered it for
the first time on a tour bus and it wasn’t very good. And it’s gotten a bad
rap over the years, but it’s kind of
making a comeback. I mean, it’s basically
fried chicken, so it’s inherently good. But it became really
popular in Israel in the early days
of the country, because it was a super poor
country that was very isolated, from a trade perspective. People didn’t have
ovens their home, so they’d take a pounded out
piece of chicken and bread it and fry it in a pan. It was cheap. It looked like a lot
of food because it was pounded out really thin. And it was something that
they actually used to teach. As each successive wave of
immigrants came to Israel, they actually would
have cooking classes and teach everybody
how to make schnitzel. So something that started
out as European and German became widely, widely
adopted in the country. And you encounter it in museum
cafeterias and tour groups. And then there is an
awesome place right on the beach in
Tel Aviv that makes these incredible schnitzel
sandwiches that, I don’t know, taste so good after you
come out of the water. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Yeah. And also, you can eat
them like, standing up in your bathing suit
with no shirt on, which is a pretty amazing thing. But also, it’s sort of
become this iconic dish because everybody that’s
ever visited Israel usually ends up eating schnitzel. And it’s become almost highbrow. Now, hipsters have
started making schnitzels. What do they call them, like
schnitzel arias, or something like that. And all they make are
these schnitzel sandwiches either in pita or in baguettes. And they use the zhug,
the [? harees, ?] all these different
condiments to make what are, essentially, fried
chicken sandwiches. STEVEN COOK: Yeah. SPEAKER: So what led you
to zucchini schnitzel? MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: I just feel
like zucchini is delicious. I feel like we always
have it in our CSA. And I’m like, I can’t do this
anymore with you right now, schnitzel, or with zucchini. And I feel like you need
something kind of exciting, and it’s sort of a star. If you treat it like
a piece of protein, it’s something really
special, and nobody’s also really doing it. I mean, people do eggplant like
this, sort of like Milanese. So what is cool about this is
we’re adding a Yemenite soup spice mix called [INAUDIBLE]. And it’s like turmeric,
cumin, and black pepper. And what we’re also doing
is using beaten eggs to, obviously, adhere the
motza meal to crust it. But it acts as a brine or a
marinade, which is awesome because normally, when we grew
up going to culinary school, European chefs would say,
you don’t ever do this. Because you don’t
add salt. You don’t let things sit in an
egg wash for too long. And the beautiful thing
about this cuisine is that it
contradicts everything that my culinary school
teachers taught me. And it’s usually grandmothers
that are doing it, which I love. STEVEN COOK: So you’re
not flowering it first. You’re going right into the egg? MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: I’m
going right in there, and that’s the other thing. I’m glad that you
brought that up, Steve. STEVEN COOK: Yeah,
I was almost going to stop you because
I also thought that’s not the way to do it. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV:
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Yeah, so that’s the thing. If you guys have ever
made any sort of Milanese. It’s like flour, egg
wash, breadcrumbs. That’s the standard
thing that we’re taught. Flour doesn’t actually
need to be there. This will adhere really
nicely, and you’ll get something really
nice and crisp. The worst part about cutting
into something breaded is when you slice it and
all the breading falls off. And you’re like,
all right, well, I guess I need a sharper knife. No, don’t listen to the
European pastry chefs that taught you how to cook food. You just simply batter
it and marinate it, and then we’re going to bread
it in motza meal and fry it. And this works really
well with chicken. This works well with veal. This works well with eggplant. This works well
with green tomatoes. And it’s super simple. I’m using this amazing– do you
guys want to pass that around? It’s so good. You usually add it to chicken
soup or veal shank soup. You can add, really,
whatever spice blend you want and it will act as a
brine and really permeate the zucchini or the meat. STEVEN COOK: But don’t
get it on your fingers because it will stain,
or your clothes. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Yeah, if
you’re wearing a white shirt. STEVEN COOK: Be careful. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV:
It’ll be festive. So Steve, you want to
show them your hummus? STEVEN COOK: Yeah. So we have a recipe for hummus
in our first cookbook, which is really based on what we
do with the restaurants. And it’s super easy but
it requires a little bit of advance planning. You have to soak the
chickpeas overnight. You have to cook the chickpeas. So we really wanted to
come up with a little bit of a shortcut, because we feel
like there’s really no reason to buy hummus from
the grocery store because you can make
something that’s super cheap and you can make
it really quickly. The idea came to us– we
were doing our six minute abs one day and we were like, we
could do hummus in five minutes and we would be rich. So we’re going to do it
all in the food processor. When we’re done,
for the most part, this is the only thing
you have to clean. And it was really based on– so the great folks at
Google have actually done the dirty work of
taking tahini out of a jar and emulsifying it in this bowl. But if you’ve ever
opened a jar of tahini, or natural peanut butter,
or anything like that, you know that
there’s oil on top. There’s like, some nice
stuff in the middle, and then a bit of
sludge on the bottom. And a lot of hummus recipes
will call for like, let’s say, six ounces of that. So you have to get
in there, mix it up, and then you’re left with
like nine ounces of stuff that maybe you’ll use, or maybe
it’ll just sit there forever. And it makes a mess, and
this is not water soluble, so cleaning up after
this is really difficult. So we tried to build the recipe. This is literally one– I think it’s a 14
ounce jar of tahini that you can literally just
dump the whole thing in. You don’t have to mix it up. Just dump it in and
recycle the jar. SPEAKER: I’m sold on
this recipe already. STEVEN COOK: So this
is all the ingredients. We’re going to start,
counterintuitively– Israeli and Palestinian
stock almost is really not super big on garlic and lemon. It’s really mostly
about the tahini. So we’re just going
to, literally, put a couple of small
slices of garlic. The thing with raw garlic
is it kind of will radiate. It will continue to
radiate through the dish. And then it calls for
the juice of one lemon. These are a little bit small
so I’ll probably use 1 and 1/2. And I like to put the lemon
right on top of the garlic because it can kind of
mellow it out a little bit and keep it from being–
it almost cooks it a little bit, keeps it from
being super aggressive. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Yeah. There’s nothing worse
than eating hummus and then two days
later you’re like, I don’t know why I still
have that taste in my mouth. STEVEN COOK: And then
the only other things we’re really going to
add, besides the tahini and the chickpeas, is
a little bit of cumin and a little bit of salt.
And the other nice thing is we’re using canned
chickpeas, which a lot of people might say is an inferior
product to dried, soaked, cooked chickpeas. But we actually
feel the opposite, because when you buy dried
chickpeas in a grocery store, they could have been
sitting in a warehouse somewhere for two
years or two months. And you got to cook
them and they could take 45 minutes or eight hours or– MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Whenever. STEVEN COOK: –every
once in a while. Right. Every once in a while, you
get a batch of chickpeas that literally never cooks. So just adding some cumin
and some salt. And then we’re going to put the
whole bowl of this in. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: You guys can
see this matbucha cooking out right now. It sort of resembles
a tomato sauce. And honestly, this with
ziti would be fantastic. But we’re going to let this
cook it down and down and down. We’re going to add a little
bit of olive oil to it and really let the flavors
concentrate and bind. STEVEN COOK: All right so we’re
going to just buzz this up. So the secret, or the key,
to the hummus that we make is we like to make a really
super light and whipped tahini sauce as the base. The last thing we’re going
out is the chickpeas. So when you get
to that final step before you add the
chickpeas, you’re going to have a beautiful,
well-seasoned sauce that goes with anything from
zucchini schnitzel to fish to roasted meat. It’s super versatile. We use it at the restaurant
for almost everything. But in order to get it whipped,
we’re going to add water. And the thing about
tahini is it’s mostly fat. And when you mix fat and water,
sometimes it’s problematic. So the trick is
to use ice water, and I’m going to show you,
when you first add the water, it’s going to look
really gross and broken. SPEAKER: A technical
term, gross. STEVEN COOK: I don’t know,
it’s like the closest we get to magic is to
watch that come back and turn into this beautiful,
pale, creamy sauce. So I’m going to
start and then I’ll stop to show you guys
what it looks like. All right. SPEAKER: Wow, Steve,
that’s really disgusting. STEVEN COOK: Can
you guys see that? SPEAKER: Looks gross. STEVEN COOK: You just got to
have a little bit of faith. SPEAKER: Ready for magic. Let’s see it. STEVEN COOK: Here
we go, all right. And it takes quite
a bit of water, so don’t be scared
to keep adding. SPEAKER: Oh my god, magic. STEVEN COOK: I’m going
to scrape the sides down, but you can see how beautiful
and creamy and pale that is. And I’ll taste it for us. And that’s a great sauce for
a million different things. SPEAKER: Yeah, that’s the base
for almost every single sauce that we serve [INAUDIBLE] and
certainly all the meat since we don’t mix milk and meat at all. So if you’re
barbecuing lamb chops, you add pistachios and
mint to that, amazing. STEVEN COOK: You were saying? SPEAKER: I’ll wait. We like ground walnuts
and [? hertha ?] peppers for roasted
fish as well. Really, really good. And because it’s been minimal,
minimal garlic and a little bit of lemon, you’re not going
to have a huge fermentation problem. So it can sit in the
fridge for a couple days. People even freeze it,
which we don’t recommend, but it does work. You just have to put it
back into the Robot Coupe to spin up so it lightens. STEVEN COOK: Right. The heat from the motor
actually your friend. If you take cold hummus out of
the refrigerator, it seizes up. You put it back in here,
maybe a little bit of water, and just, literally, the
warmth from the motor is going to bring it
back to room temperature and make it taste
like you just made it. How’s the frying
going over here? MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Frying is
going really, really well. So we have a little canola and
grape seed, just medium heat. And I don’t want to go super
hot because the zucchini is raw. So if it’s too close to high,
the exterior and the crust will cook and the
interior will be raw, and you don’t want al
dente fried zucchini. That’s super junior varsity. So we’re just going
to cook this up, and if you’ve got a little
extra garlic, can I use this? STEVEN COOK: Yeah, have that. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Thanks, dude. Boom, throw it in,
which is really good. We’ve got some za’tar over here. And when we flip it, we’re going
to kind of crust it with that as well. STEVEN COOK: What’s za’tar? MICHAEL SOLOMONOV:
Za’tar is two things. Za’tar is an herb that grows
wild that is like if margarine and the savory were to have
a child, it would be that. Za’tar what most people think
of when they think of za’tar, is a spice blend, that has got,
depending on where you are in the Middle East,
sumac, sesame seeds, and some of the dried herb. Everybody makes it a little
bit different over there. And we actually got a
farmer in Lansdowne, like, 30 minutes outside
of Philadelphia, to grow za’tar for
us, which is weird. He doesn’t know where
to put the apostrophe. He’s like Z,
apostrophe, A-T-A-R. And they’re like, I got
za’tar herb for you. And I’m like, I don’t even
understand what you’re saying right now, but bring it. But it has a two month growing
season in Pennsylvania. He grows lemon verbena for
us, too, which is fantastic. He walks through the dining
room of the restaurant and it smells like
something special. You can see also, too, so
this matbucha is really coming down well. And I like to make this, cook it
out, and let it show overnight, and cold, so it gets mature
sort of tasting and settles. But it would be really
good just like this. We’re going to
flip this guy over. So nice. And this is an entrée. This is a sandwich filler. This is like, anything. And zucchini is one of
those things that is just really, oftentimes, underused. I don’t know. People grill zucchini with
other things as like, filler, and it doesn’t need to be. That’s it. We’re almost done. I mean, should we
clean these guys up? STEVEN COOK: I’ll
go ahead and finish. So this is two cans
of chickpeas drained. Use your favorite brand of
canned chickpeas and they go right n. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Or tuna. STEVEN COOK: We don’t
know what’s in that can. And I mean, you’re literally
just going to turn this on. I think you have to sing the
alphabet in Hebrew like twice and then it’s done. Stop a little bit and
make sure you scrape down the sides once or twice. SPEAKER: The color is beautiful. STEVEN COOK: Yeah,
it’s really gorgeous. AUDIENCE: You’re not singing. STEVEN COOK: In my head I am. SPEAKER: It’s
internal monologue. STEVEN COOK: The
only real difference with using canned chickpeas
is that they cook– I mean, they do a beautiful
job of cooking them in the can so that each chickpea
maintains integrity and it’s got a little
bit of bite left to it. When we cook chickpeas from
dry at the restaurants, by the time that we’re
finished cooking them, they’re not recognizable
as chickpeas. They’re just mush, and
that’s what contributes to like a super creamy texture. But that texture,
really, is just a matter of personal preference. This is going to be
still very, very smooth, but you’ll have a little
bit of texture in it. SPEAKER: Yeah, question? AUDIENCE: How much [INAUDIBLE] MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: That’s
a really good question and I’ll repeat it. SPEAKER: Paraphrase it. Yes, thank you. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV:
Yeah, so it’s, how much of Israeli
cuisine is kosher? So culturally, the
laws of kosher– the way that the food came
back from the diaspora came mostly through Jews. So Yemenite cuisine,
North African cuisine. My family’s from Bulgaria,
but from Spain, originally. And so the food
that they brought about wasn’t Spanish and
wasn’t totally Ottoman, because the Ottomans had also
conquered the Balkans for oil. It was still laws of
kosher were maintained. So it’s not just
Yemenite food from Yemen. It’s Yemen without
milk and meat together, with the cooking
on Shabbat, which is a big thing, that
overnight cooking. Because you’re not allowed,
from sundown till sunset– sundown on Friday till
sunset on Saturday, you’re not allowed to
mess with your ovens. And you’re also kind
of commanded to have an extravagant meal on Saturday,
which is a huge problem because you can’t
turn ovens on and off. So everybody’s got their
own version of cassoulet, or overnight Sabbath stew. So I would say, as I was saying
before, we’re not kosher, but we wanted to keep
it a little bit real because the laws of Kashrut
are relevant when it comes to eating, like the
cultural way that you eat in Israel for the
majority of the population. So I’m not sure, actually. I almost forgot the
intent of that question, but I hope I
answered part of it. But that’s a good way
for us to distinguish. When we started, we we’re
like, well, if we’re not kosher and we’re roasting lamb, I
want to serve it with yogurt. But once I start
serving with yogurt, that takes away a little
bit from like the intent that we want our
customers to have, that we wanted to cook with,
to understand that how it was. So that the laws of Kashrut,
even though we’re not kosher restaurant, the
way that you cook really, really matters. There’s a Yemenite bread called
kubaneh, which literally, it’s a yeasted bread that goes in a
200 degree oven for 12 hours. And you eat it Saturday
morning with hard boiled eggs, and it’s like delicious. Not the lightest thing
in the world, but very, very, very good. And having that Saturday
morning experience is something that is
very relevant to the way that we cook. Also, cassoulet, too,
came from hameen, or from [INAUDIBLE] which is– the Ashkenazi Jews made
[INAUDIBLE] and the Moroccan Jews made hameen,
and usually, that’s a legume meat stew
that goes overnight. SPEAKER: Yeah? AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] STEVEN COOK: We’ve tried that. It doesn’t quite– it
gets a little bit softer, but it doesn’t quite– I think once they’re
cooked and cooled, it’s kind of hard to
take them further along. We found that hasn’t been
really worth the trouble. SPEAKER: Yeah, finish up. STEVEN COOK: I’m going
to plate this up. So I mean, the only
clean up we really have is this, a spatula,
a couple of bowls. But it’s pretty clean. Actually, I want to
buzz it one more time. I just season it with
a little extra squeeze of lemon and some salt. And the plating of this
is actually important. When Israelis invite
you to go eat hummus, they ask you, literally, do you
want to go wipe some hummus? Because it’s the
action of dragging the pita through the hummus. And so the way
that you plate it, traditionally, is both
beautiful and also functional. So I will demonstrate that now. So you want to put the
hummus in the middle. You want to take the back
of the spoon and go around and sort of run the hummus
up on the rim of the bowl, kind of like a wave. It just kind of makes it easier. And a shallow bowl
is great because it makes it easier to
get in there and not get hummus on your sleeve. And then we have, in the book,
about 25 different toppings of hummus, which are not
super traditional in Israel, but it’s such a great
campus, because it’s rich but it’s also kind of neutral. So we top it from everything
from pine nut and broccoli pesto to ground lamb with
[? faharad ?] and pine nuts. It kind of goes with everything. But the simplest
way to do it is just a little bit of olive
oil, some chopped parsley, and some paprika. SPEAKER: Beautiful, absolutely. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV:
It’s good for wiping. I’m going to finish
this up as well. We’re just going to take
some of our matbucha, spoon it down with a
little bit of hummus, the zucchini, some cilantro. I feel like finishing everything
with excessive amounts of olive oil is the way to do. There it is. SPEAKER: Beautiful. Can you guys shift those
gorgeous dishes just a little bit over so everybody can
see them on the camera? MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Yeah. AUDIENCE: More. SPEAKER: More, more. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: OK. SPEAKER: There you go. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: All right. Thank you, everybody. SPEAKER: Thank you. Beautiful. So we absolutely have
time for questions, but I have one for you first. So in addition to Zahav
and your cookbooks, you guys are the CookNSolo team. So how did that come to be? STEVEN COOK: How
did that come to be? We’ve been working
together for 13 years now. We were introduced, actually, by
my wife, who’s from Pittsburgh, where Mike grew up. So they were family
friends, and my wife introduced about 13 years ago
because the first restaurant ever opened I was
looking for a chef. And my wife Cher was like,
you really got to meet Mike. He’s the other Jewish
line cook in Philadelphia. SPEAKER: The two of them. STEVEN COOK: We had
apartments in Philly. We both moved to
Philly the same year. We had apartments
literally right next door to each other for a
year and never met. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: And I kept
hearing about Steve as well. I was working at a
restaurant called Vetri and I was going to leave. STEVEN COOK: Yeah. In retrospect, it was a pretty
hasty, foolish decision. We met each other for
coffee for like, 20 minutes and then I was like,
you want a job? And that’s kind of
how it happened. SPEAKER: But now it’s James
Beard awards and six minute abs. It clearly worked out. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Yeah,
one of those things. It’s fun, I mean, our business. When we started
working together, Steve was the owner
of a restaurant that had seven employees that
was in 45th and Marchwood, past [INAUDIBLE]
campus in West Philly. It was this tiny, little BYOB. And today, we have 250
employees and 12 restaurants, for 13 restaurants? 12 restaurants. SPEAKER: So many that
you’re not even sure. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV:
Well, that’s a lot. We try to block it
out, the number, so we sleep better at night. And yeah, I mean,
we’re super different, super different people,
and that has really helped. But when times are
tough, which they often are in restaurants– it’s
like every other day, there’s some sort
of catastrophe. The ability to like bounce
ideas and have support from, essentially, your
BFF is very helpful. SPEAKER: That’s beautiful. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV:
And also auditing your terrible decisions,
if it was only us. I mean, independently, we come
up with some very bad ideas, I think. SPEAKER: That’s the best
partner, the one who can really audit your terrible decisions. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Totally. SPEAKER: You had a question. AUDIENCE: Yeah, so there’s
this debate about– MICHAEL SOLOMONOV:
That’s a great question, and I guess I’ll
paraphrase, which is what is American
Israeli cuisine’s role in telling the story,
I guess, of Israeli food? I mean, the fact of the matter
is food travels and food changes and adopts the
way that people do. Now Israeli food in
the US is a big thing. And I think that what
we had to do at Zahav was break from tradition,
because it wasn’t relevant. What you have available to you
in Pennsylvania in February is, obviously, very
different than the produce that you have access
to in the Middle East. And it came at a
time where we were about to close the
restaurant, we were so slow. And I really held on
to this idea of things being very traditional. At the end of the day,
it doesn’t matter. My shakshuka, I
think, is very good. Regardless of how
good it tastes, it’s not as good as
the restaurant in Jaffa that makes it overlooking
the Mediterranean Sea. And ordering
tomatoes in February, even though they were from
Israel, it doesn’t taste right. So we had to adapt. We had to start pickling
and preserving, using spices and techniques
to really tell a story. So the visceral reaction
that we got from our guests was good enough. I didn’t need something
to be literal. At the end of the
day, my bourekas, which were my
grandmother’s recipe– they’re this beautiful puff
pastryesque thing that’s like a turnover that’s stuffed
with feta cheese– tells the story of my family
going back to the Inquisition till now. I make it the way that
my grandmother made it. It will never taste
as good as hers, ever. And when Steve
hired me at Marigold and I started taking
her boureka dough and stuffing it with
porchinis and foie gras. My grandmother would
have hated that. She would have thought
it was terrible. I thought it was very good. But that’s the way
that we progressed. And I think that that’s
probably the big contribution is that people are
not only saying– it’s up to me. I’m not a grandparent. I need to adapt and change,
and I can take liberties. But you get to look at a
country from a third person point of view, from
a different narrative and say, well, the best
Bulgarian restaurant in Jaffa is here. The best Yemenite
restaurant that I know is in Hadera is here. The best Palestinian restaurant
that I go to is here. And we’re going to take all– I can look at all these
things and pick and choose what I want to put on a plate
to tell a different story. And I think that’s what we do. I think if you go to
Israel and ask somebody where the best
Israeli restaurant is, they have no idea what that is. I mean, there’s no such thing. And so for us to be able to
articulate that, I think, is important. SPEAKER: Yeah? MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Right. Where to get good za’tar
and a good baharat? I mean, I hate this
answer, which is just like, order it online now. But when you come
up with cookbooks, you’re like, resources. And you’re like, Amazon, baby. Or like, go to your
local fishmonger. I’m like, I’ve never been to– I’ve been cooking
for a long time, I don’t know any fishmongers. SPEAKER: We can
introduce you to some. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Do they
wear like, rubber boots all the time? Where do you get them? I know California’s better
than everywhere else, but we don’t have that,
really, on the East Coast. So where you can get it, we’ve
got a really good spice guy in New York. His name is Leyora
[INAUDIBLE] and he’s got a spice shop
called La Boda Piece. And he makes the
best blends ever. It is much easier now
to get those ingredients and those certain items. And it’s, obviously, much easier
to get them shipped directly to you. But I don’t know. I like going to
different supermarkets and ethnic supermarkets and
just tooling around and running around. And when we opened Zahav, we
had access to none of them. So it was like anytime my family
would visit, I was like, hey. Meet this guy on a corner,
he’s going to give you a bag. Don’t ask any questions. And then they’d get to the
States and they’re like, all of my underwear smells
like Yemenite soup spice. Thank you very much. So it’s a little bit easier now. But I don’t know,
spices are really– it’s funny because now,
just now, we have access to really good spices. Before, it was
like baharat, which is funny, too, because baharat
and hawaj, and curry, those all mean the same. They’re all blends and there’s
like, 17 different kinds. But I think now, people are
starting to understand it, and it’s a very good way
to take local ingredients and really articulate
something that is very pure. What is the– there’s
one dish that we do. Oh, so we take figs right now. We have local figs
that are awesome. And we’re barbecuing
them on charcoal and we’re taking
Bulgarian feta cheese and whipping it with
[INAUDIBLE] and spooning it on top of the figs. And we’re frying lentils
on top for crunch, and then we’re taking
sumac from New Jersey– not poisonous– and
we’re blooming it and olive oil from Turkey. And we’re pouring
on top of the feta to break it, because
any sauce needs to be broken with tons of olive oil. That’s our rule. And it’s nothing that
you’ve ever really had over their, or at
home, but the feeling is something that is super pure. So yeah, I would try [INAUDIBLE]
Kalustyan’s, is, I think, is pretty good as well. And yeah. SPEAKER: Amazon. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Amazon. You’re asking an
impossible question, which is how to make your
tomatoes taste better. I mean, I feel like
in California, they’re pretty awesome. So whenever we’re in
Israel, I’m like, wow. Why does everything here
taste so much better? From a trade perspective, Israel
is, essentially, an island. So not even to be cool, but
everybody eats local there, and I think that
really helps out a lot. On the East Coast,
we have to deal with shipping from South
America or California, at best. And we have a small
window in the summer, actually, Jersey goes till
mid-October and they’re great. So to make tomatoes
really concentrated, you gotta find the
tomatomonger, and just try to develop good
relationships with farms and go to farmer’s markets,
I think would be it. We like to dehydrate a lot. So towards the
end of the season, we’ll buy many cases of tomatoes
and we’ll salt and preserve them and dry them a little
bit, and that kind of helps us. But yeah, it’s a tricky thing. You have to elaborate. There is tomato powder– dried tomatoes,
entirely dry, ground. Adding a little bit of
tomato powder, sumac, and salt to fresh tomatoes
really wakes them up. SPEAKER: I love that idea. Yeah? AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]
Quick question for you. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Nailed it. Yeah. SPEAKER: Yeah. How do you guys design
eating experiences at your restaurants? STEVEN COOK: I mean, I think
that was in addition to being an early American
restaurant that was calling itself
Israeli, which was a big thing 10 years ago. I think the style of eating
kind of defines Zahav more than anything else. And when we worked
together at Marigold, we had very few customers,
so we had a lot of time. We had a lot of time to
just sit on the back steps, waiting for people
to come in and talk. And that was really
when Mike was started– we started we start having
this conversation of here’s how they eat in Israel. You come in, sit down. Before you order any food,
a lot of food shows up. It’s all the
salads, representing all the different cultures. And it’s fresh bread
and it’s hummus, and it’s just the
sense of abundance that is really free of
anxiety of having to make any choices at that point. And I think that’s
kind of what we wanted to capture when we opened
Zahav because it was not American dining. It was nothing like that. And we were starting to see
Spanish tapas places open and do very well. That was 10 years ago. That was like the big
restaurant openings for these giant Spanish tapas
places that we all wanted– we were all jealous of because
they were just killing it. And as Mike says,
meze predates tapas by a couple of thousand years. So that sort of primed
the dining public to be able to eat that way. But yeah, when you come
into Zahav, basically, I mean, I would say
90% of the people choose one of our options where
the menus kind of prescribe– you get some choices,
but you sit down. All these salads come to
the table, fresh laffa that Mike cooks, hummus, and
then you get a bunch of meze and a bunch of– excuse me– a bunch
of grilled things. So it’s super casual. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV:
Everybody shares. Everybody rolls
up their sleeves. Everybody rips bread apart. And it’s not formal. STEVEN COOK: We’re
really proud of the fact that the critic of
record in Philadelphia, instead of handing out
stars, he hands out bells. And you can get
four bells, and I think there’s five or six four
bell restaurants in Philly, which we’re really
proud to be one of. And I think our
price point and check average is probably about
half of the next cheapest one. And so, really, we try to
be hospitable and warm and approachable as much as we can. And part of that is price point. Part of that is
taking away anxiety from people when they come
to a restaurant with a menu that they might not know
what the words mean. So that’s a huge part
of success, I think. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: Zahav
is, essentially, our house. I mean, that’s hospitality
on every level is that. Eating with my family in
Israel is, essentially, being force fed
way too much food, but really being made
to feel comfortable. And that’s what we try
to do with every guest. SPEAKER: So if that’s your
launch point in your home base, how did you start deciding what
other types of restaurants you might want to have? MICHAEL SOLOMONOV:
Well, we opened Zahar in 2008, which
was not a great year to open any small business, let
alone an Israeli restaurant. And the Phillies had
won the World Series that year, which
is great if you own a bar with a television
in it, not a restaurant. So we were a super slow. We’d opened another
restaurant that was doing OK. And we were hanging
out with our friends that were the first people to
bring fancy coffee to Philly. And we they wanted
to open a donut shop. They wanted to do
coffee and donuts. We were eating tons of Korean
fried chicken at the time. So we were like, why don’t we
do donuts, coffee and chicken? We’re not doing anything else. Our restaurants
are kind of slow. We each put a couple thousand
dollars– five partners put a couple thousand
dollars in a pot and we opened Federal Donuts,
which serves donuts, coffee, and fried chicken. SPEAKER: Just because you felt
like eating donuts and coffee and fried chicken. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV:
We were bored. SPEAKER: This is my kind
of business decision. I like it. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: If
we each lose $5,000, it would totally
be the worst thing. Let’s just try it out. And then on day two,
we’re like, wow, this is the best idea
we’ve ever had in our life. And that was what,
five years ago? STEVEN COOK: No, that
was six years ago. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV:
Six years ago, and now we have
five or six of them. And super random, but delicious. And it’s like the
three major food groups in the United States. We’ve owned a restaurant. So that’s sort of an outlier. But we had a barbecue
restaurant at one point. We had a Mexican
restaurant at one point. The food that we serve
at all of our restaurants are the things that
are very personal to us and we have this
emotional connection. And as I said, things go wrong
all the time in restaurants. And you feel you have this
like obligation a little bit to your heritage to
really keep things alive. It helps. We’ve got a couple really cool
projects that are definitely related to Israel. We’ve got a couple
really cool things happening in the next
year that we’re not quite ready to announce. But you guys should definitely
take a field trip to Philly. SPEAKER: Hear, hear. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: It’s
only a five hour flight. But the cost of doing
anything in Philly is so much cheaper than the
Bay Area, so it’s nothing. Going to a convenience
store for you is spending a
weekend in our city. SPEAKER: Our team is working
on some delicious bites, and we hope you guys will
stick around and sign some cook books for those lucky few. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV:
Yeah, we will. Thanks so much for having us. SPEAKER: Well then,
please, join me. Thank you so much. MICHAEL SOLOMONOV:
Yeah, thank you. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

Comments (6)

  1. Something to scarf down after shooting Palestinian children.

  2. It sure would be a joy to share some Presidential cookery and stories with you at Google!

  3. #FreePalestine! These speaker selections are laughably horrible. #DoNoEvil?

  4. This is s gay I cant stand it.

  5. "Israeli soul"? Oxymoron?

  6. I have their cookbooks, but I have to admit they were more or less trophies — you buy them because they're getting the buzz. I'm so glad I had a chance to see these guys cooking and talking about what motivates and influences them. Growing up in California, I was aware of so much of this growing up, but it feels even more familiar now. 😉 Thanks!

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