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Food: Even the Menu Tastes Good

3 minute read
Kristin Kloberdanz

THE TECH CHEF

When a recent guest at the chic Chicago restaurant Moto brought in a Tupperware bowl of warm raccoon meat and asked chef Homaro Cantu to “do something special with it,” the master chef did not flinch. Employing one of his latest innovations, he turned on his Canon inkjet printer and, using meat-flavored inks, printed out an illustration of a raccoon on edible starch paper. He stewed the meat with juniper, placed the paper on top and dubbed the tasty entrée “road kill,” much to the delight of his guest, an avid hunter. All in an evening’s work at Moto, where customers are starting to catch on that whimsy is the chef’s specialty. “We’re dinner and a movie, all wrapped up in one,” Cantu says.

This culinary showman, whom critics have called a “tech chef” and an “avant-garde artiste,” grew up in Portland, Ore., the inquisitive son of an engineer. He worked in several kitchens across the country before persuading Charlie Trotter to hire him at his esteemed eponymous Chicago restaurant in 1999. There, Cantu invented a hands-free emulsion blender for the kitchen. “I started seeing a place for crazy ideas,” he says. While at Trotter’s, where he was promoted to sous chef, he filed the first of his 38 kitchen-utensil patents. In early 2004, he opened Moto and soon became known for two inventions: herb-stuffed silverware that enhances the olfactory experience of a dish and an insulated polymer box that bakes raw fish in front of the diner’s eyes.

Cantu, 28, rarely lets any item linger on the menu for long, preferring to try new ideas like soy paper disks that look and taste like sushi and whole carbonated grapes that fizz when you pop them into your mouth (he calls them “champagne”). Lately he has been experimenting with food levitation. By injecting helium into froths and zapping smaller substances with an ion-particle gun, he hopes someday to float plate-free meals above the dining-room table. Cantu says Oscar Meyer representatives recently approached him about helping them create a kid-friendly edible menu. Instead he persuaded them to consider edible advertising. “Think about opening up a magazine and finding a secret-coded flavor,” he says, imagining children tasting a page seasoned with chili or sugar powders and deducing the essences for prizes. Sound elaborate? For Cantu, who dreams of eating not only the meal but also the plates, tables and chairs, the complexities of the future make his mouth water. –By Kristin Kloberdanz

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