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Narratives Exclusives, The Dish

Homaro Cantu

We’re changing the way humans perceive food… My goal with this is to deliver food to the masses that are starving… We give them something that’s healthy, that has an indefinite shelf life, and that is supercheap to produce.

– Homero Cantu (September 23, 1976 – April 14, 2015) was an American inventor, entrepreneur, and chef, known for his use of molecular gastronomy. He owned and operated the Cantu Designs Firm and Moto Restaurant in Chicago, Illinois. (Wikipedia description as of April 16, 2015 that also lists the legacy he’s left behind. Quote from Jennifer Reingold’s piece for Fast Company.)

Gallery: Moto (November 2006) *Warning: these are horrendous pictures in the early days of dark restaurants, no flash (I at least knew that), and early generation point and shoot systems.

Phil Vettel of Chicago Tribune writes on How Cantu changed Chicago’s culinary scene

New York TimesPete Wells on Cantu’s work to combat world hunger, charitable efforts and other projects including The Trotter Project in Homaro Cantu, Science-Minded Chicago Chef, Dies at 38

TEDBlog (January 2013): Goodbye to sugar? Homaro Cantu on how to trick your taste buds

Moto chef Homaro Cantu wants to save the world by Mark Caro of the Chicago Tribune back in 2012

Great read: Jennifer Reingold‘s cover story on Cantu (in the early days) for Fast Company (May 2006): Weird Science

Cantu’s TED Talk with Ben Roche in 2011 on Cooking as alchemy

In remembrance.

There’s much sadness the last couple days with the shocking and sudden loss of Chicago’s Homaro Cantu. Cantu wasn’t just a chef but also a creative mind, and social entrepreneur who “dreamed of eradicating hunger with nutrient-soaked edible paper.”

In a time when most are fearful of food technology and additives, the innovative chef was on the path to making ground-breaking changes, using those discoveries for good. That included “flavour-tripping” using the miracle berry to help make unpalatable foods palatable (he has a cookbook, The Miracle Berry Diet Cookbook) or even reduce sugar consumption; or with Ben Roche, using new food delivery systems to create flavourful and healthy food substitutes.

I admired his commitment to revolutionizing food. I hope that work on these initiatives continue despite his all too soon passing.

In thinking about Cantu, it also reminded me of my first – and only – meal at his celebrated restaurant, Moto.

I did, in 2006, as Vettel’s article mentioned above, visit the three restaurants that were starting to create a sizable progressive-culinary ripple in the city, natch, country, at that time: Alinea, Avenues and Moto. The reasoning for the latter was to check out what this chef was doing who had turned his kitchen into a chemistry lab. I was studying science full time at that point in time, and here was an intersect of my two worlds. I read and watched videos of edible ink being printed on edible paper; of this new technique called “deconstruction.” It was all very curious, and I went in with an empty stomach and open mind.

ITALIAN Food, Moto, 2006: Pizza soup; Caesar salad soup, croutons, Caesar dressing cream, Parmesan and cracked black pepper. The course was paired with Unibroue 2005, Chambly and played on the classic pizza and beer pairing.

ITALIAN Food, Moto, 2006: Pizza soup; Caesar salad soup, croutons, Caesar dressing cream, Parmesan and cracked black pepper. The course was paired with Unibroue 2005, Chambly and played on the classic pizza and beer pairing.

While I didn’t love my experience at Moto 1.0,* I did come away with an appreciation for beer (pairings in a meal). And for Quebec’s Unibroue, which up until that point was foreign to me. I never thought of beer being delicious. Or that it could be used to pair with food outside of pub grub or Chinese fare (ah, those years growing up seeing all the adults at the table throwing back Tsingtaos). Here, we were in a refined dining setting sipping beer out of fancy wine glasses, eating it with a pizza and salad soup. (No, really.)

Only at Moto.

I also saw how equipment and tools from my science trade could have a secondary purpose, and that with a little imagination (a lot of perseverance, trial and error), it’s possible to reinvent the wheel.

So thank you chef for taking those risks, for pushing boundaries and always thinking outside the box. We might have met only briefly when you brought our doe-eyed party down to your lab with its Class IV laser (pre-smoke gun) and goggles but I remember your kindness and hospitality. You were a pioneer in the American modern gastronomic movement and a big part of what set Chicago apart from so many other cities (to me). Truly, gone too soon.

* One of my favorite dishes from the night neared the end of the menu: a whimsical CHILI-CHEESE nachos dessert number that was in the form and colour of nachos but composed of shredded fruit sorbet and diced fruit “peppers”, sweetened nacho chips, a yogurt-based “sour cream.” Looking back, I feel this is the impression I’ll remember Cantu by the most – in that moment of delight, I had a glimpse of his curious and innovative mind. And it was delicious.

About Renée Suen

Renée Suen is a food loving freelance writer and photographer based in Toronto. Her insatiable appetite, curiosity and camera are often found travelling around the world in search of memorable tastes and the stories behind the plate. In another life, she is a PhD candidate in Cardiovascular Sciences.


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