When we booked multiple James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov and his business partner Steven Cook on Special Sauce to talk about their new book <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Israeli-Soul-Easy-Essential-Delicious/dp/0544970373/?tag=serieats-20">Israeli Soul: Easy, Essential, Delicious</a></em> and their restaurants (<a href="http://www.zahavrestaurant.com/">Zahav</a>, Dizengoff, Federal Doughnuts, among others), I thought they'd talk a lot about a typical chef-restaurateur partnership and contemporary Israeli food. I couldn't have been more wrong. What I heard instead was an incredibly moving story of a friendship made stronger by struggle. Zahav was no overnight sensation, Cook is no ordinary restaurateur, and Solomonov is not your everyday rock star chef. For example, here is Solomonov speaking about the nature of his relationship with Cook: "It is a true partnership and we are equally on the hook for things when they go wrong. We've learned how to grow together and how to remove ego...and at this point we've done this long enough where if we don't like something we're comfortable talking about it. Like it's safe. We encourage it. With our team and certainly with our managers. The last thing that we want are for people to just agree with us." Zahav's success was by no means assured at the outset. Israeli food was not exactly trendy in Philadelphia, or anywhere else for that matter. The first year was fraught with peril, but the peril ended up inspiring Solomonov and Cook to experiment with the cuisine and be less hemmed in by tradition. As Solomonov says, "We had no salaries and we were going to close the business and we were squeaking along to really make payroll, to stay open. It forced us to be really diligent and to think about our priorities. And actually, in a way, it freed us too. That was when Zahav, the food or the way that we cook now, sort of came to fruition." Or, as Cook puts it, "There's nothing like the desperation of impending failure to sharpen your focus." Solomonov and Cook were incredibly candid about Solomonov's well-publicized struggles with substance abuse; Solomonov describes how Cook found out, three months after Zahav opened, that he was keeping secret his crack and heroin addiction. Solomonov says, "Steve, as a friend and business partner and brother, was the first to be supportive and to say, literally, you know, you have a problem and we want you to get help." The Solomonov-Cook episodes of Special Sauce are so full of life, love, pain, and redemption, they should not be missed. Be sure to tune in next week for the next installment.
--- The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2018/11/special-sauce-michael-solomonov-steven-cook-1-2.html