Homaro Cantu: A gala dinner catered by Willy Wonka

Imagine Willy Wonka making expensive food for adults with a sense of humor. That’s Homaro Cantu.

Andrew Zolli introduces him by giving us the recipe for a Cantu signature cocktail:

Ingredients:
1 vanilla bean
6 oz red wine

Directions:
Clamp vanilla bean below an inverted wine glass
Heat bean with class four laser until it glazes the glass with caramelized vanilla smoke
Fill glass with wine, swirl and serve

Before Cantu takes us on a tour of his kitchen, he explains that he spent three years of his childhood homeless, with his mother and sister. His main collaborator, Ben Roach, was raised in a regimented military family. He believes that these backgrounds have helped shape them into innovators who both make high end food, but who invent new techniques and tools to make foods possible. They’re now experimenting with building a Star Trek type replicator, which they believe could revolutionize relief efforts… but for now, they’re offering diners a 5, 10 or 20 course tasting menu at Moto Restaurant in Chicago.

(Actually, Cantu runs the “idea factory” for the restaurant, creating new techniques and tastes to offer to diners. And printing things on cotton candy.)

Our tasting menu stars with an edible menu, tasting of curry, served with dal, cured lemon, and a shot of cucumber and yogurt which has been spun in a centrifuge.

The next course is hot and sour soup – hot vietnamese soup broth mixed with eggs, seasoned with sesame and herbs, frozen in liquid nitrogen. The result is “one body of liquid with multiple temperatures and textures.”

The next dish features “fizzy fruit”, fruit that’s been infused with carbonation in a “fizolator”. Fizzy watermelon, pineapple and onion are served with scallop tempura and celery root puree.

And then there’s a champagne cocktail. Two syringes of grape juice, mixed in a glass, which fizz and turn into synthetic champage.

The next is a pile of snow – goat cheese broth, frozen in liquid nitrogen, served with a squeeze of vinegar.

Then a seafood dish – mixed greens, fried shallot, hamachi – with a fizzy half of a blood orange. “Sometimes the customers think we’re really messing with them when we serve them half an orange at $160 a head.”

Cantu’s really excited about a superinsulated polymer oven. You heat it in a conventional oven for ten minutes and it can cook on a table top for hours. It’s cool on the outside, hot on the inside, and a clear plastic version might be able to cook via solar power. He uses it to cook a piece of fish, keeping the vapor and nutrients in it, serving it with shaved mushrooms.

Now a plate, painted with butter popcorn syrup, basil syrup, buttered king crab and frozen coconut powder, topped with a vegan, zero-carb extruded noodle made from pasion fruit.

Frozen peas and carrots, made from dense, flavored puree, cooled in liquid nitrogen, and served with extract of peas and carrots on top. “They taste more like peas and carrots than peas and carrots.”

Milk jam – reduced milk with sodium bicarbonate – wood grilled mushrooms, duck confit, poached tuna with sea salt, powdered duck confit oil, grilled, carbonized oranges… which are somehow added to an edible substrate, printed with an MC Escher-like image of ducks turning into tuna. (I think. There’s a lot in that dish.)

A metal platem with white bean puree, white, red and sea beans and a chunk of bison, homemade rice crispies, chorizo powder, served with silverware that contains fresh herbs in the handle of the fork. Cantu theorizes that we’ll soon be able to serve whole meals within the utensils…

Amaranth, with jalapeno sorbet, avocado, and warm lemon myrtle cream.

Cantu announces, “Now we’re going to show you some dangerous shit.” The diners are led into the kitchen, past a sign that has a Salvador Dali quote: “There is only one difference between a madman and me. I am not mad.” They enter the kitchen, where the laser technician is heating the vanilla beans. The cocktail is served with a plate of kielbassa puree, cabbage with mustard and bacon, and wood grilled beef. “These are very manly flavors – laser, mustard.”

Ben Roche takes over for the desserts: Macaroni made of lychee fruit with golden beets, triple cream cheese blended with chocolate and rice paper that tastes like lychee.

Lemon merangue pie made from lemon curd, mint cream and a noodle of pie crust.

Cotton candy, transmogrified into a printeable material – we’re each given samples to eat. The desert includes fried cotton candy, and an image of cotton candy that tastes like cotton candy. (And you wonder why I invoked Willy Wonka.)

A metal plate, frozen with liquid nitrogen to negative 280 farenheight. Pancake batter is poured on and allowed to freeze, then flipped. A frozen pancake, liquid in the middle, served on a spoonful of maple syrup.

A shmear of milk cream (his term), a sphere of grape pectin filled with liquid peanut butter, which gushes out when you poke it. A mote of sweetened bread – a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of milk.

Donut soup – donut espresso, actually, the concentrate essence of donut – with a donut pancake.

A banana split, of banana puree, shredded fried banana and a pink triangle of frozen cherry.

A bowl of nachos, made from crystalized candy corn chips, kiwi in mint juice which looks like green salsa, and frozen mango puree.

And, so you don’t feel cheated, a balloon filled with cherry extract, frozen in liquid nitrogen. As it sublimates, the balloon grows, and the scent escapes through a pinhole in the balloon, filling the room with aroma.

These guys are clearly the craziest to take the stage so far, and they’re some of my favorites.


And that’s it for me, kids. I’m ducking out a bit early to dine with a friend in Portsmouth. Looking forward to seeing what everyone else thought and wrote, as it’s pretty hard to read the other blogs when you’re writing like this. Thanks to everyone for reading, linking and commenting and thanks to Andrew Zolli and the whole crew for another wonderful Pop!Tech.

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