Cantu was variously described as an avant-garde chef and revolutionary, and as someone who was successfully creating the future of food. He was a practitioner of molecular gastronomy in the mold of Ferran Adria, but in many ways went further than Adria did: the menu at Moto featured items such as edible menus, carbonated fruit, and dishes cooked with a laser. His kitchen was equipped with a centrifuge and a hand-held ion particle gun. NASA was investigating his edible paper as a possible solution for feeding astronauts in space.
According to all accounts, his childhood passion was science. After working in a fast-food restaurant as a teenager to earn money to purchase electronic gadgets, he realized that science and cooking could be successfully combined. Like Adria, his training had classical roots; he graduated from the Cordon Bleu program at Oregon’s Western Culinary Institute and spent four years working for Charlie Trotter before opening Moto in 2003. The restaurant earned its first Michelin star nine years later.
Cantu was committed to ending world hunger and believed that the vehicle would be the West African miracle berry, which makes food taste sweeter; he regularly sent samples to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, in the hope that it would improve their appetites. He worked tirelessly for charitable causes, most of which were unknown to the public. At Berrista, his Chicago coffee shop, he gave away hundreds of free lunches every day to local children. After the death of Charlie Trotter he founded the Trotter Project, a foundation devoted to providing culinary and nutritional education to underprivileged students.
He was reportedly under stress recently because of lawsuits filed against him by one of Moto’s investors, who was trying to oust him from the restaurant. Beyond that, there was no indication of depression in his normally optimistic nature—although we can now assume that underneath the bursts of creativity were reservoirs of darkness that were just as intense. Homaro Cantu would have been the first to tell you that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); for more information, go to amazon.com