Author Christina Couch Illustration Graham Roumieu
Homaro Cantu takes careful aim and fires, hitting his target squarely. Then Ben Roche follows up with a flamethrower. Finally, they administer the coup de grace—with a knife and fork. For Cantu and Roche, the chefs behind Chicago’s molecular gastronomy restaurant Moto firing a red pepper oil–filled paintball into a few innocent bratwursts and cooking them with a blowtorch is all in a day’s work.
“We want to push the boundaries of what you can and cannot eat,” Cantu explains. “We’re trying to see if you can turn something inedible like a burned brat into something tasty.”
Challenging culinary preconceptions is what Cantu does best. Part cook, part mad scientist, he fuses haute cuisine with the principals of biochemistry to produce foods like carbonated fruit, laser-baked bread (with crusty insides and doughy outsides) and mayonnaise created using high-pitched sound vibrations. Armed with class IV surgical laser, centrifuge, freeze dryer, lab-grade sonifier and a Star Trek-like food replicator that prints snacks onto edible paper, he has an undisclosed number of patents under review. Now he’s focusing on an even bigger project: a new television series on Planet Green that will demonstrate how the foods of tomorrow, such as edible packaging peanuts and the so-called “miracle fruit,” a berry that prevents the taste buds from detecting sour or bitter notes, can solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental, hunger and nutrition issues.
“Everything you see about food is negative, negative, negative. ‘Eat your vegetables; don’t eat red meat; seafood is bad because of overfishing,’” Cantu says. “People aren’t going to change unless you give them something tastier. That’s where we come in.”
Of course, whether items like faux seafood truly can be more appealing than its traditional counterpart remains to be seen. And tasted.
“They can,” Cantu insists. “You just need a bunch of crazy people to prepare it.”