Chef Mehmet Ak stops cooking
at his revamped Cousin's I.V.
Last week I had dinner in “a vortex to a higher consciousness.” It was, according to the brochure, “a place that exudes love, gratitude and blissfulness.” A place that “welcomes all with open arms.” And a place that would sooner close its doors forever than turn on an oven.
That vortex used to be just a restaurant. But a few weeks ago, after a yearlong, headfirst journey into the world of “living foods,” chef-owner Mehmet Ak reopened his neighborhood Turkish restaurant Cousin’s as Cousin’s I.V. The initials stand for “incredible vitality,” which is precisely what he hopes his vegan, 100 percent raw and mostly organic menu will provide.
Last November, Ak weighed 235 pounds. “I was really fatigued,” he says. “I’ve been a chef all my life, but I had no idea about nutrition.” That was before he entered a one-month detoxification program, where he learned to nourish himself on a completely “living foods” (a.k.a. raw food) diet. He lost ten pounds that month.
“It made a lot of sense to me,” Ak remembers. “It was like, Wow! This is what I’ve been looking for all my life.”
So he continued. He gradually became a vegan. He ran the Chicago Marathon. He studied living-foods cooking at California’s famous Living Light Institute. He lost 68 more pounds. Finally, he opened Cousin’s I.V., which offers yoga, raw-food classes and its own cleansing workshop.
But while downward dog is great and all, I was more curious about the food. Ak has designed a menu of “living mezes,” small plates that for the most part are influenced by his Turkish heritage. Sometimes they work: Mini “pizzas”— hearty flaxseed crackers topped with chunky, garlicky tomato sauce, fresh avocado, marinated mushrooms and “almond cheese”—are surprisingly delicious. Marinated spinach (kneaded by Ak’s own hands to make it tender and easier to digest) gets some bite from diced onions. Tabouli has no trace of Bulgar wheat, but the mix of sprout, parsley, mint and scallion tastes extraordinarily fresh. Green-bean almondine, also kneaded, is tossed in a lively lemon juice–and–olive oil dressing. Strands of zucchini in a zippy marinara sauce are a refreshing stand-in for pasta.
Hummus, on the other hand, made primarily with zucchini instead of chickpeas (banned, as they must be boiled), maintains its usual texture but hardly any taste. And “Zoom burgers,” patties made of mostly walnuts, hit one note—an overly nutty one.
But a few minor pitfalls on the menu aren’t likely to keep local raw foodists from seeking out Ak’s cuisine: One woman from Oak Park came in for take-out, claiming she “doesn’t mind driving for food like this.” Luckily for them, Ak seems completely committed to his new way of life. “I’m going to do whatever I can do to be on living foods,” he says. “I’m just going to be clear, I’m going to be me. I’m just going to do it.”
3038 W Irving Park Rd between Whipple St and Albany Ave (773-478-6868). Bus: 80 Irving Park. Open: Lunch, dinner (closed Sun, Mon). Average main course: $12.