Thursday, February 03, 2005
Chef Homaru Cantu: Moto's Techno-Culinary Wizard  
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Printed sushi, edible menus and laser-baked inside-out bread?

Homaro Cantu's menu at Chicago's Moto resembles an atom-smashing of Willy Wonka and Salvador Dali, with items like "hanger steak with hanging potato chain links," "baked map of alaska," "deconstructed sable bouillabase reconstructed tableside," "lobster with chateau d'yquem jello, freshly squeezed orange soda & brown butter ice cream," or my personal favorite - "three ounces of jelly doughnuts with doughnut shaped coffee." He's even found a gastronomic use for NASA's physics-defying aerogel:
Cantu is also developing a course that floats. He starts with a cube made of a special kind of whipped silicone (invented by NASA) and, in a smoker, imbues it with various food aromas. The server then holds it above the table and spins it to release its designated fragrance. The material, which contains air pockets, become lighter than air when heated, so it remains suspended for a short time.
The New York Times today dedicated a story to the Second City's wizard-chef-engineer, not under "dining," but "technology":
But the sushi made by Mr. Cantu, the 28-year-old executive chef at Moto in Chicago, often contains no fish. It is prepared on a Canon i560 inkjet printer rather than a cutting board. He prints images of maki on pieces of edible paper made of soybeans and cornstarch, using organic, food-based inks of his own concoction. He then flavors the back of the paper, which is ordinarily used to put images onto birthday cakes, with powdered soy and seaweed seasonings.

At least two or three food items made of paper are likely to be included in a meal at Moto, which might include 10 or more tasting courses. Even the menu is edible; diners crunch it up into a bowl of gazpacho, creating Mr. Cantu's version of alphabet soup.
He also prepares edible photographs flavored to fit a theme: an image of a cow, for example, might taste like filet mignon. "We can create any sort of flavor on a printed image that we set our minds to," Mr. Cantu said. The connections need not stop with things ordinarily thought of as food. "What does M. C. Escher's 'Relativity' painting taste like? That's where we go next."
Mr. Cantu is experimenting with liquid nitrogen, helium and superconductors to make foods levitate. And while many chefs speak of buying new ovens or refrigerators, he wants to invest in a three-dimensional printer to make physical prototypes of his inventions, which he now painstakingly builds by hand. The 3-D printer could function as a cooking device, creating silicone molds for pill-sized dishes flavored, say, like watermelon, bacon and eggs or even beef Bourguignon, he said, and he could also make edible molds out of cornstarch.

He also plans to buy a class IV laser to create dishes that are "impossible through conventional means." (A class IV laser, the highest grade under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's classification system, projects high-powered beams and is typically used for surgery or welding.)

Mr. Cantu said he might use the laser to burn a hole through a piece of sashimi tuna, cooking the fish thoroughly inside but leaving its exterior raw. He said he would also use the laser to create "inside out" bread, where the crust is baked inside the loaf and the doughy part is the outer surface. "We'll be the first restaurant on planet Earth to use a class IV laser to cook food," he said with a grin.

He is testing a hand-held ion-particle gun, which he said is for levitating food. So far he has zapped only salt and sugar, but envisions one day making whole meals float before awestruck diners.
[Read full article at New York Times]