"And that's how you create levitation," says Matt Mize as he slides his hand between a superconductor propped on the white tablecloth and a super electromagnet floating in air. Gravity-defying food and other tricks up the sleeve are par for the course on a night at his Brecksville restaurant Mizestro (8918 Brecksville Rd., 440-792-4679, mizestrodining.com), which celebrates its first anniversary this month.
Tableside sorbet whisked into dessert in 30 seconds in cryogenic bowls, and strawberry basil lollipops made with an anti-griddle in front of your eyes are just a few of the spectacles in his routine. Mize recently printed coasters in 3-D and wired an LED light to create glow-in-the-dark cocktails he delivers himself.
"I'm not one to hide in the back," he jokes.
But if Mize is Penn, he still allows food to be his Teller, the co-star that quietly makes the magic happen between entertaining. His regularly changing menu is built around small plates, many of them globally inspired. Much of that influence comes from his travels around the world.
Born and raised in California, Mize had no intention of becoming a chef when he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1991. Fresh out of boot camp, he was placed as a cook despite nonexistent experience.
He learned the ropes while traveling, when he often looked to locals from Hong Kong to Brazil to Japan to discover new cuisines. After re-enlisting in 1995, he was randomly selected to interview for the position of personal chef to the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps. His next four years were spent in Washington, D.C., split between the Pentagon and the Commandant's home.
It was all part of what he calls "a series of being in the right place at the right time."
A perk of the new role included training at the Culinary Institute of America. Back in D.C., he also met José Andrés, a leader in molecular gastronomy who instilled a love of the fusion between science and food that Mize has spun into showmanship.
"It's taking something so simple and just transforming it," he admires.
Following his tenure, he cooked for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and worked in catering at the Smithsonian Institute. When he moved to Philadelphia, he signed on as multi-unit executive chef to esteemed restaurateur Stephen Starr. His wife Jacquie's career as personal assistant to Joe Banner, who began working with the Browns in 2012, brought them to Ohio.
But Philadelphia still has a place in their hearts and menu; look no further than the Cheesesteak Eggroll. Even his California roots are represented in the chicken mole.
His most in-demand dish is a short rib, cooked sous vide for 96 hours, with a house-made rub concocted of crushed espresso beans and dehydrated mushrooms.
"In the Marines, when you had a long weekend, it was called a '96,'" he says.
Colorful, playful creations dominate the plate at Mizestro. The popular Violet Duck takes dehydrated and crushed violet petals mixed with coriander to bring out a floral flavor that balances the tartness of its blood orange glaze.
Only a year in, Mize knows there's room for fine tuning. But once he gets to what he deems excellence, his five-year plan is to open two more restaurants.
Until then, he's content to perfect the art of surprise. Mize isn't shy about wanting to keep you on your toes. Each time guests walk in, he promises, they'll never know what to expect.
"I don't call it fine dining," Mize insists. "I call it fun dining."