Gourmet: Eating His Words

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By Sofia Perez

[Published by Gourmet, January 2005]

Moto piece thumbnailYou’ve heard of tasting menus, but chef Homaro Cantu of Moto, in Chicago, has taken them one step further with a document you can actually taste—as in, “Break me off a piece of the appetizer list.” Using edible ink and soybean-cornstarch paper, Cantu flavors each section of his menu according to its regional theme; the Italian entrees, for example, might taste of mozzarella, basil, and tomato, and the French options suggest Camembert on a baguette. Sometimes, after you order your meal, a server will bring you a small piece of paper on a plate—a “maki roll,” say, flavored with soy and nori powders (the chef likes to call it “déjà vu”).

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, becomes lighter than air when heated, so it remains suspended for a short time.

The son of an engineer, Cantu says he’s always had an interest in mechanics. “I still ask all the questions that every kid asks,” he says. “Whatever you think can’t be done might be entirely possible. It should, at least, be investigated.” And investigate he does: Thus far, he has applied for 30 patents—for everything from a cylinder that carbonates solid food to a pressurized polymer box that steams fish at your table. And while the chef admits that theatrics play a role in the Moto experience, he’s not kidding when it comes to his global food. “The flavor needs to be there,” he says. “Otherwise, it’s nothing more than a circus act.” (945 W. Fulton Market, 312-491-0058, motorestaurant.com)