Crack addicts are seldom synonymous with cooking. Unless, of course, it's cooking up crack. But this crack addict not only became a top shelf chef, but he also co-helms a restaurant mini empire. How'd he do it?
The year was 2008. Chef Michael Solomonov was at the helm of Zahav, a fledgling Philadelphia restaurant that served Israeli cuisine. He was also a crack addict.
"Sometimes when he fetched supplies in the middle of a workday, he’d take a detour to buy crack and smoke it in the car" wrote Frank Bruni in The New York Times. "And sometimes after his wife Mary went to sleep at night, he’d quietly drive off to find more."
Solomonov would "cruise around the city high and drunk, returning at daybreak to 'slither back into bed' before she woke up."
"The chirping of birds in the dawn stillness grew familiar. It was as if they were shaming and mocking him."
Oh, there was booze too. "Scotch, vodka, triple sec, whatever was within reach," reported Bruni. And there was also heroin.
Zahav wasn't doing so well. Solomonov was doing worse. On a Bermuda vacation he ran out of heroin and went into severe withdrawal. His wife decided enough was enough. Back in Philly she and Zahav co-owner Steve Cook confronted Solomonov. Rehab. Right now. Or Else.
Mary and Steve didn't define Or Else. They didn't need to. Solomonov was game. He did the program. Attended meetings. Worked the 12 Steps. And aside from a couple brief early recovery lapses, he's been clean and sober ever since.
Solomonov also got to experience one of those renowned miracles that come from sobriety. For just as he and his partner were about to shutter Zahav, Esquire named it one of the Best New Restaurants. From then on, business was booming.
Top Shelf Chef
Actually, booming might be an understatement. Since Solomonov got sober, he and Cook's cookbook, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, has won two James Beard Awards. And Solomonov and his partners have opened Abe Fisher, Dizengoff and Percy Street Barbecue. Solomonov and company even started a fried chicken and donut chain called Federal Donuts.
Solomon's also reportedly turning down requests to open Zahav restaurants across the country.
"Making money sounds great,” he told The Atlantic. "but I like when people come to Philadelphia to have dinner."
He most certainly must. Because Solomonov and Cook's CookNSolo have just announced plans to open three more eateries across The City Of Brotherly Love. First will be K'Far ("village" in Hebrew), an Israeli bakery and cafe that will be helmed by Camille Cogswell, who won her own James Beard Award as pastry chef at Zahav. Next will be a sandwich shop called Merkaz ("center"). A Zahav-like entry up in Kensington called Laser Wolf is also on the near horizon.
Still, all that success doesn’t mean Solomonov can forget his addiction.
"A lot of people think that when you are doing well it’s somehow easier," he said. "Good things and bad things are all triggers for recovery. And I still have to be really disciplined."
Solomonov is also very careful not to let all the accolades go to his head.
"I could believe the things that people constantly write or let my head get big and get arrogant," he said. "And I’d go right back out."
Miracle of Sobriety
Not every ex crack addict is winning James Beard Awards. And not every ex crack addict will go on to run a restaurant empire. But every ex crack addict can succeed, at whatever they put their mind to. If, that is, they're willing to do the work and stay true to the course. And while the successes to come are a natural occuring part of the miracle of sobriety, they're never to be taken lightly. Why? Because it all can be taken away at any time. Just ask Chef Solomonov.
"I probably should have died 100 times over," he said. "If I ever decide to relapse, more than likely than not I will."
We at Recovery Boot Camp are rooting for Solomonov to stay in recovery. And we wish him continued success. We'd also like to remind everyone out there that they too can experience the miracle of sobriety. And if they've any doubts whatsoever, they need only turn to the inspiring story of Chef Michael Solomonov.