With his spiky crown of hair, it might seem that Chef Owen Maass sports more gel than sense—and I mean that in the most admiring way. A thoroughly sensible chef who possesses Maass’s skills might use Cumin’s prime real estate to try to appeal to a wider audience. Instead, his highly developed flair for the dramatic often inspires use of the acronym WTF. Witness a recent menu where an elk chop served with “ginger impregnated apples” gave new meaning to the term food porn; where to all but owners of Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine a “pliable egg yolk” (served with heirloom grits) sounds suspect. Does that mean it’s adaptable, bendable, or simply going to submit to my fork? (Please, let it be that.) To some, pairing coffee with smoke implies a breakfast of champions (especially when the coffee’s black, the cigarette’s unfiltered, and there’s a jelly doughnut on the side). To Maass, “coffee smoke” provides kick to an appetizer of roasted bone marrow. Despite the cheeky tone and hairpin turns, it takes real talent and confidence to be this playful. Maass breathes life into timeworn classics that result in deeply flavorful and soothing food (his pork belly steamed buns with cabbage slaw and fermented chili paste are perfection), while Cumin’s proprietor, Alex Mchaikhi, has established a benchmark by which all hospitality should be measured. That pliable egg yolk? It’s bendable.
3520 Erie Ave., East Hyde Park, (513) 871-8714, cuminrestaurant.com
Originally published in the March 2013 issue.