Cincinnati Chef Owen Maass Aims to Update Bel Lago

Beth Stallings

Owen Maass wasn't looking for a new job. He had a good gig at Cumin Eclectic Cuisine in Cincinnati. But the chance to redefine the food at Bel Lago Waterfront Dining was a challenge Maass, who's worked at Aquavit in New York City and Tru in Chicago, couldn't resist. He's not holding back when it comes to food, either. In the five months he's been executive chef at Bel Lago, Maass has stripped the menu of its safety dishes and added simple, creative touches.

Where did you start with menu changes?

You begin with proteins that everybody knows. I took proteins currently on the menu, and I kind of spun them a little bit. [The menu] had to change so much because it was so dated. We raised the bar on every ingredient that we use.

I read that you love using wood fire.

Yes, I love wood fire. That's one of the reasons I pulled pizza off the menu. We have this $60,000 oven, and you just cook pizza in it. It's like owning a Ferrari, and you pull it to the end of your driveway and back it up. [Now the oven is] a station off the menu. A lot of items are prepped in it and roasted in it. There's something magic about the oven. You can't add that flavor-it just happens.

What should Columbus diners know about your cooking style?

I believe in no-rules good food. I'm American; I'm a mix of everything. And that's the way I cook. If it's Korean food, I want to find the best Korean thing I can possibly get, and I want to make it amazing and understandable. So somebody can trust me to make something for them that they are going to enjoy. That's the big thing we're dealing with right now is customers trusting us. Everything we're doing now is about gaining trust.