Michael Solomonov Loves McNuggets (Really!)

The lauded chef talk to us about everything from fast food to origami.


The New York Times loves his Federal Donuts, Craig LaBan just upgraded his Israeli spot Zahav to four bells, and he’s expanding to the Main Line this summer with kosher restaurant Citron and Rose. But what the 32-year-old Israeli-born, Pittsburgh-raised master chef wants to talk about is McNuggets, origami and “Radar Love.”

My name is … Michael Solomonov. It’s Russian. My great-great-grandparents had the name Bachar. They lived in Bulgaria, and at one point, when the Ottomans were oppressing, the Bulgarians revolted and the Russians helped them. They all took Russian last names.

If you’re coming to my house for dinner, bring … sparkling water.

When I was 16 … I had dreadlocks and lamb-chop sideburns. I was a total degenerate.

The biggest difference between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh … is the accents. And topography.

My last meal at McDonald’s … was years ago. Chicken nuggets, dude. Twenty of them. That’s why I don’t eat McDonald’s that often. Turn into a hog.

People would be surprised to know that I … am really good at origami. I can make a frog with toes, a 3-D 12-pointed star. I used to make origami jewelry when I was a kid; that’s how I paid for summer camp.

The food I couldn’t live without … would be cheese. All types of cheese.

The best food neighborhood … is South Philly, especially 11th and Washington.

To stay in shape … I just started boxing at Joe Hand. Jeff Michaud from Osteria got me turned on to it. Oh good, I’m going to work out so hard that I’m going to throw up. Three times a week. It’s very humbling.

The most famous person I ever cooked for was … Natalie Portman. She got hummus, haloumi, cauliflower, grilled eggplant. I think she’s a vegetarian. Her baby daddy got grilled chicken.

My mother taught me … to be nice.

My father taught me … to be funny.

The last time I was in Israel … Steve Cook and I and our families stayed at a refurbished Crusader palace in the north.

I am ridiculously afraid of … great white sharks.

One song I always turn up is … “Radar Love.” “Kickstart My Heart” is a close second. On Sunday mornings … I drink coffee. A lot of coffee. Usually Stumptown Coffee from Bodhi.

The most underrated restaurant in Philadelphia is … Mémé. There should be more praise. David Katz’s cooking is super-honest.

The restaurant trend I’m most tired of is … fucking farm-to-table. Not the quality of it; I’m just tired of hearing those words put together.

My post-shift drink is … chamomile tea.

If you really want to piss me off … you’ll have a cluttered cutting board.

If Mayor Nutter does one thing during his final term, he should … have dinner at Zahav. Seriously. He’s never been in, and I’d love to cook for him.

When I’m nervous … I crack my knuckles and eat candy bars. Take 5 or Fast Break.

I shouldn’t tell you this, but … I almost lost a bet in which I would have had to have somebody’s name tattooed on my left buttock. A friend. Happens to be a girl. Not my wife.

Interview by Victor Fiorillo