Powerful, beautiful food
By Hillary Copsey
Muse, Mount Lookout’s newest restaurant, opened in December, but the inspiration for it came 30 years ago, when Anne Ilyinsky survived a battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
In the aftermath of treatment – high doses of radiation from every angle and her body battered and bruised but recovering – a friend introduced her to a macrobiotic diet and the idea that food could be preventive medicine. That changed the way Ilyinsky approached food, and her journey of mindful eating helped her recover from cancer, live with Lyme disease and keep her body strong and healthy.
“I know the power of food, and I know, especially as a cancer patient, you’re not going to live if you don’t eat, and so the question is: what’s the best food you can put in your body?” Ilyinsky said. “I have to be accountable for my own longevity.”“I know the power of food, and I know, especially as a cancer patient, you’re not going to live if you don’t eat, and so the question is: what’s the best food you can put in your body?” – Ann Ilyinsky
At Muse, Ilyinsky wants to share the knowledge and resources she’s collected over three decades of mindful eating and provide everyone – no matter their dietary restrictions, allergies or preferences – with beautiful food.
Executive chef Jen Kempin, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, specializes in innovative, clean, local dishes. Almost all the ingredients come from within 100 miles of Cincinnati. But even those that don’t, like oysters from Maine, arrive at Muse from sustainable farms known or well-researched by Ilyinsky and Kempin. The menu changes often to account for seasonal availability and always provides a variety of options for vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free diners.
“My passion is to cook alternatively,” Kempin said. “Not restrictively, not differently, not strange, but just presenting something alternatively and beautifully. Like, if you’re vegan, you should have a beautiful meal, not just a salad and a potato. I try to cater to people who find it difficult to go out.”
Two of Muse’s investors, John Sacco and Dorothy Shaffer, are integrated health physicians who have treated Ilyinsky, and they share their nutritional expertise on the back of each menu. While you wait for your food, you can learn about the liver-cleansing benefits of beets, for instance, and the array of nutrients found in tiny pepitas.
“What makes Muse different than most other restaurants is that we have the capacity to educate people about the power of food, the nutritional power of food,” Ilyinsky said.“What makes Muse different than most other restaurants is that we have the capacity to educate people about the power of food, the nutritional power of food.” – Anne Ilyinsky
She and her team plan to present educational dinner series. Instead of a dinner showcasing a wine and food pairing, for instance, Muse will offer heart-healthy dinners or a series of meals showcasing ingredients that help people with diabetes.
The focus on whole health and well-being extends to the restaurant’s staff and general practices. In addition to using sustainable and ethically produced and packaged ingredients, Muse composts its waste with a local company, Go Zero, and provides regular time off to its 15 workers. The staff also receives sick and personal leave and health insurance, benefits that aren’t always available in the food industry. Only about 14 percent of restaurant workers receive health insurance from their employers, according to a 2014 study from the Economic Policy Institute.
“It’s all about that work-life balance, making sure your body is just as healthy as your spirit,” Kempin said.
Ilyinsky and her team try to spread that work-life balance beyond Muse by offering Monday brunch and specials to anyone working in the restaurant or entertainment industries. Cincinnati Ballet, the Red Feather staff and others have taken advantage of the offer.
“It’s our way of saying, ‘You’ve taken care of us all weekend. Let us take care of you,’” Kempin said.
Muse isn’t the first food venture with which Ilyinsky has been involved. She sits on the board of Turner Farm, the Indian Hill organic farm, and is an investor with Rooted Juicery in Oakley. But this is the first project that is entirely hers. She set the mission, hired staff, designed the space nestled on the corner of Mount Lookout Square, chose the name. She is there each day, doing everything from arranging flowers to washing dishes.
“I’m 60. I thought I had one last big gig in me, and I wanted to do something that was positive,” Ilyinsky said. “My heart and soul are here.”
It’s easy to assume the restaurant’s name refers to Ilyinsky herself. She is literal royalty: Her father, Paul Ilyinsky, was the great-grandson of Tsar Alexander II of Russia and a first cousin once removed of Tsar Nicholas II – and, she said, several people called him a muse.
But Ilyinsky said named the restaurant for the verb “to muse: to think, to ponder, to meditate on.”
At Muse, where the white walls are adorned with a Buddha, Ilyinsky hopes she created a place where people can slow down, focus on their dining companions and their meals. She hopes they find food nourishing to their bodies and their souls.
“Somebody helped me think about it,” Ilyinsky said. “Now, I’m returning the favor.”