Director's cut: Homaro Cantu

September 19, 2012

Homaro Cantu, the chef best known for so-called molecular gastronomy, held an impromptu cooking class at his restaurant, Moto, on Tuesday morning. Tuesday night, Cantu premiered a playful Martin Scorsese-themed menu at his adjacent restaurant, iNG, with Italian influenced food and drinks. Why Scorsese? "We chose Scorsese because we think he is one of the most creative artists and he has a sense of humor even in his most serious works," said Cantu Wednesday.

That is how I'd describe the chef and his work as well. For disclosure, I have known Cantu since I first staged at Moto in 2004, and Tuesday he invited me to dinner as his guest. The first course, dubbed "9mm" (seen here in my dinner live-tweets) was a buttery crespella (Italian for crêpe) filled with intense caponata (the Sicilian take on the more familiar ratatouille) and garnished with pungent Taleggio cheese molded into a tiny handgun. 

Another disclosure: I hate the term molecular gastronomy when it's applied to restaurant food — I'll get into that another time — but I understand that it's now widely known as the application of both scientific and artistic principles in cuisine, as it's described at Moto.
 
Whatever you call it, Cantu is now one of a handful of chefs worldwide who incorporates science and artistry as naturally as buttering bread. This menu will only run six weeks. "Its the only way to keep up with seasonal local product and we get tired of making the same thing longer than that," said Cantu. The amuse-bouche Tuesday night ("Sleeps with the fishes") was a rock shrimp cracker dipped in aioli powder, on top of a seaweed and smoke filled bowl, with skewered rock shrimp pasta sheets — all serious work, but humorous. 
 
That's the case with his work with miracle berries, fruit that transforms sour to sweet as its most dramatic trick. Cantu started using the berries as part of a project initiated by a longtime customer who asked Cantu to help make food more palatable for a friend undergoing cancer treatments. Now Cantu has written a miracle berry cookbook, which will be out in January 2013. He appears Wednesday night at an event hosted by my fellow WBEZ blogger Marcus Gilmer (entitled "Chicago loves Homaro Cantu") with a miracle berry tasting.
 
Miracle berries may or may not transform your taste, but Cantu will always amuse you.