Why He’s Interesting: Around these parts, Umansky is known as the foraging, fermenting, James Beard Award-nominated chef and owner behind Larder Delicatessen and Bakery in Ohio City. More broadly, though, he’s recognized as a leading expert in a little-known fungus called koji, used in soy sauce, sake and other dishes.
Wonder Full: Umansky has always been fascinated by the world, which led his father to nickname him “Boy Wonder” as a child. Growing up, that curiosity was sometimes compounded by the impulsivity that came with his ADHD and Tourette’s syndrome. “I’ve been able to corral things over the years, but even now, everything I do is driven by my wonderment.”
Nature’s Calling: As a teenager growing up in Solon, Umansky turned to the great outdoors as a means of distracting himself. Audubon books in hand, he’d head to the Cleveland Metroparks with friends to try to classify their surroundings. “I would spend time investigating nature, capitalizing on my environment and what was around me.”
Taste Buds: Umansky has a low density of taste buds and thus cannot detect the taste of bitterness, so he relies on his staff’s palates to tell whether he’s tasting something that won’t go over well with diners. “There are a lot of wild foods that are bitter, but I can only pick up on the sensation of bitterness, not the taste.”
Family Business: Phyllis Bookatz, Umansky’s maternal grandmother, was a kosher caterer for Pepper Pike’s B’nai Yeshurun Congregation. In his early teens, he started helping her work catered luncheons, gigs which ultimately inspired the kind of food he creates today, such as his fried gefilte fish sandwich breaded with matzah meal and served like a Filet-O-Fish. “That imprint of what foods comforted me was set early on.”
Three and Out:
What piece of advice would you give your teenage self?
Not to give up. I was intent on changing the world as a teen. I didn’t know how I was going to do it or what I was going to change, but I knew I was going to do it in a positive way.
What’s your most treasured item?
My dog, Babaganoush, a border collie mix. He’s super obedient and really smart.
What’s your favorite time of day?
I never turn the lights on in our house, so my favorite time of day is any time there’s sunlight.
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