Filmmaker Richard Sherman didn’t set out to make a documentary about Israeli cuisine with Philadelphia chef Michael Solomonov as his tour guide. And Solomonov, co-owner of area hot spots such as Federal Donuts, Abe Fischer and the Israeli food-focused Zahav, wasn’t looking to be a star for Sherman, whose lens had previously captured the likes of restaurateur Danny Meyer and early rockers Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Yet here they are, premiering the gritty-yet-graceful In Search of Israeli Cuisine as the opening flick for the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, beginning March 28 and running through May 23 at the Gershman Y.
“It’s my journey, as I had developed the idea of the film for two years before asking Mike to be my tour guide,” says Sherman. “Meeting him, tasting his food and hearing Mike’s knowledge regarding ancient traditions — new ones as well — that made the film go. His warmth, self-deprecating humor and way with street vendors and high-end restaurateurs was exactly what I needed.”
Rather than just taste test their way through Israel’s street foods, white-tablecloth restaurants and farms, they delved into the culture, histories and strife in the country. “I didn’t want to make a puff piece … so we deal with all the conflicts,” says Sherman.
The shy Solomonov, busy with the build-out of his next Philly restaurant, Rooster Soup Company (“late spring, maybe”) and opening his second Dizengoff hummus café in Manhattan, was honored to be part of Sherman’s vision.
“It’s been my life’s dream to do something worthwhile like this, especially considering the wild man that I’ve been in my past,” says Solomonov with a laugh about the idea of eating and sleeping Israeli culture. “I was born there, have an Israeli passport, but my life has been here. I stay close through my food.”
Solomonov became part of Sherman’s already-defined goal for a film in 2013 when the latter was looking for collaborators. The director and his wife, Dorothy, (who wound up producing the cookbookZahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, penned by Solomonov and Steven Cook) dined at Zahav, spoke with the chef and asked him on the spot to be part of his cinematic vision. “I immediately said yes,” says Solomonov. “I loved the idea of doing something culturally and spiritual relevant.”
Even a chef as well-versed in Israeli food as Solomonov came away amazed at what they found in “the multigenerational holes-in-the-walls and the fancy places” during their month-long trek. When it comes to what impressed him the most, Solomonov points to the local produce: “I can still taste the guavas from the farmer using flood water in the desert, or biting into their fresh figs.”
In Search of Israeli Cuisine
Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival
March 28, 7:30 p.m.
The Gershman Y,401 S. Broad St.