Homaro Cantu continues to be one of the most innovative chefs in America. Super Chef spoke to him recently about his plans:
Super Chef: You are expanding into the Chicago’s Green Exchange building. Are you doing a new restaurant?
Homaro Cantu: In addition to a laboratory, we will be opening Outside the Box Brewing Company. I can’t talk about the direction, but it will be a brewery, but completely different. We are researching a product. You drink alcohol, but won’t give you a hangover. It is all about healthier and more fun. We are re-thinking alcoholic beverages. You will be able to drink, and then wait twenty minutes and you will be sober. It will eliminate all kinds of problems. It might even eliminate alcoholism.
In the lab we will be researching new products. We really want to bring products to the market that consumers really want, even if they don’t know it yet.
Super Chef: What kinds of products?
Homaro Cantu: We are creating appliances for a major appliance maker. We are creating a printed meat product, vegan meat-replacement product. We might stress test them. We have aerospace engineers, food scientists you name it. We have good relationship with the consulting world. We can come up with new products a speed and efficiency they can’t get anywhere else.
Super Chef: Will the lab at MOTO be moved to the Green Exchange?
Homaro Cantu: No. There is a lab at MOTO and a lab at ING. MOTO is all about creativity and science. ING is all about removing sugar from diet. The Lab, Cantu Design, is about taking idea of simple products that work onto a bigger level. All restaurants should have a lab.
Super Chef: You wrote to Super Chef that you are raising $5 million for this and construction begins this year, completed by May/June and you have 12 projects for the first year. Where is the funding coming from? Are you still fund raising?
Homaro Cantu: Private equity. We are not done. We are still raising funds. It is going to be “Xerox Park” for food. We are looking for people willing to take a risk, and make a profit. It is all about important issues of health and wellness, social responsibility, but also making money on new products.
Super Chef: Are other chefs opening up labs?
Homaro Cantu: I can’t speak for other chefs. But I am going to step outside of MOTO and ING. I taught them how to do their jobs. My goal is to develop products that will make an impact outside of my restaurants. At the end of the day, I created an orange that made an impact in juice industry, or a sustainable oven that can make a huge impact. What we do at MOTO and ING is exciting, but it’s only 80 diners a night. I want to see something more wide spread,. Not so much for the celebrity chef, that only last a little while. What really feels good is doing something that can help millions of people.
Super Chef: Can you tell me more about some of these projects?
Homaro Cantu: Sugarless candy bars [with mberry]. Healthy junk food – you won’t tell the difference. In packaging, there is so much wastefulness. Take soda containers. We have a new beverage container that will revolutionize the entire industry. It will cut 80% of all beverage containers. It isn’t about the restaurant anymore. People want easier, bigger, better, faster – and that is what we are going to bring them. That is what Apple brought to mobile computing and that is what we will bring to food.
Super Chef: You are working with the international kid’s robotics program FIRST LEGO League. Isn’t it kind of like cloud inventing – getting 200,000 9-14 year olds all working on inventions and innovations in food safety? You are going to be a special guest at their World Festival in April. Why are you involved?
Homaro Cantu: LEGOs and Kids and Food Safety! I am still learning about FIRST LEGO League. When I was a kid my inventions took the form of things that blew up or got me expelled from school, until I got a teacher who showed me how to be more constructive. I believe you have to support creativity. I think a lot of creativity –synesthesia that I probably had when I was a kid– is bread out of kids. But if we think in simple terms, we can achieve things that are impossible.
Super Chef: Lastly, what are your restaurants planning for Valentine’s Day?
Homaro Cantu: iNG Restaurant is doing a 10-course menu with 10 beverage pairings for $150.00, MOTO is doing an 18-course menu with 14 beverage pairings for $300.00.