In a nearly two-century-old fire station in Cleveland, Ohio, sits an American delicatessen using locally foraged ingredients and an Asian-style mold to create a pastrami-on-rye sandwich. Welcome to Larder Delicatessen and Bakery, the science experiment-turned-award-winning business of Cleveland-born chef Jeremy Umansky. And yes, following this stretch of quarantine, it has reopened, with limits.
Umansky’s first book, Koji Alchemy: Rediscovering the Magic of Mold-Based Fermentation, is out now. Co-authored with Rich Shih, a leading expert and koji and miso researcher in the U.S., the book is a biology explainer/cookbook, delving into the history, along with the hows and whys, of koji-based fermentation. It also includes recipes for some of Larder’s most popular koji-based dishes.
But in this climate, Umansky and other mom-and-pops need more than a book release to keep their restaurants afloat. His work before the pandemic had been paying off: Larder was voted Best New Restaurant and Best Deli 2019 by Cleveland Scene Magazine and listed as a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in 2019 and Best Chef: Great Lakes in 2020. Post-quarantine, he’s buoyed by local support, alongside an ongoing revival of the Jewish deli and bagel trade in the U.S. to which Frankel’s Delicatessen & Appetizing in New York City, Call Your Mother Deli in D.C., and Daughter’s Deli in Los Angeles add momentum.
Rather than flipping burgers as a teen, Umansky helped his grandparents run their Jewish funeral home before trading in his dark suit and solemn demeanor for chef whites to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He left just one class short of graduation, concerned that a class involving wine (tasting not required) would put his hard-earned sobriety at risk.
Several years later, he returned home to clear the path and establish himself as a local foraging enthusiast. Giving new meaning to the…