What do you call Homaro Cantu? A chef? A scientist? Or maybe an inventor? After all, who uses liquid nitrogen to make ice cream?
Speaking of desserts, Cantu's latest fixation deals with making foods taste sweet.
"How do you replicate the sweetness, the richness of desserts without sugar?" asks Cantu. The answer: It's all about tricking your taste buds to make sour things sweet.
Cantu has opened two of Chicago's most groundbreaking restaurants: Moto and iNG. But now he wants to broaden his reach, taking his scientific approach to flavor changing to revolutionize the sweet foods we love to eat.
[Related: What the Heck is Clean Eating?]
"I'm really focusing on the future of food which is paved with opportunities,” he said.
The Miracle Berry
Cantu first developed his interest in changing food flavors to help a chemotherapy patient whose treatment made every meal taste metallic.
"Imagine what it would be like if you couldn't eat your food," Cantu said. "Physically you're getting skinny, you're losing weight. Psychologically, you're worn out."
How did Cantu help the patient? He focused on a West African berry called the Miracle Berry. It’s been eaten for centuries and it has a protein that binds to the taste buds altering flavors. In effect, the Miracle Berry turns sour to sweet.
"This chemo patient was able to eat food again after she ate the berry," he said,
Healthy Junk Food
Now, making the tablet form of the berry right at iNG, Cantu uses it as the catalyst for his restaurant's cuisine to give diners a new, wholly unexpected taste experience.
"Basically, in the future, we're going to be able to have all of our desserts and all of our junk food and it's actually going to be healthy for us," says Cantu, who calls the Miracle Berry "a game changer."
Partnering with the company mberry, which sells the berry in tablet form to the public, Cantu developed a cookbook over the last eight years. Now he plans to open a next-generation coffee house, Berrista, to prove his approach to food can change what we eat.
“You're going to be able to eat a donut with jelly in it. And it's going to have a scant amount of calories. It's going to go from unhealthy to healthy and good for you. And that's really an opportunity. That's huge."
An innovator not afraid to rock tradition, Cantu's great love is delighting diners with food. And if a berry in tablet form can bring out the unexpected zest of a tomato in a Thai salad, well that's what eating with Homaro Cantu is all about.