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TED2011

Homaro Cantu + Ben Roche: Cooking as alchemy

March 1, 2011

Homaro Cantu and Ben Roche come from Moto, a Chicago restaurant that plays with new ways to cook and eat food. But beyond the fun and flavor-tripping, there's a serious intent: Can we use new food technology for good?

Homaro Cantu - Chef
The executive chef at Chicago's Moto restaurant, Homaro Cantu created postmodern cuisine and futuristic food delivery systems. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Ben Roche: So I'm Ben, by the way.
00:15
Homaro Cantu: And I'm Homaro.
00:17
BR: And we're chefs. So when Moto
00:19
opened in 2004, people didn't really know
00:21
what to expect. A lot of people thought
00:23
that it was a Japanese restaurant, and
00:25
maybe it was the name, maybe it was
00:27
the logo, which was like a Japanese
00:29
character, but anyway, we had all these
00:31
requests for Japanese food, which is
00:33
really not what we did. And after about
00:35
the ten thousandth request for a maki roll,
00:37
we decided to give the people
00:39
what they wanted. So this picture is
00:41
an example of printed food, and this was
00:43
the first foray into what we like to call
00:45
flavor transformation. So this is all
00:47
the ingredients, all the flavor of, you know,
00:49
a standard maki roll, printed onto
00:51
a little piece of paper.
00:53
HC: So our diners started to get bored
00:55
with this idea, and we decided to give them
00:57
the same course twice, so here we actually
00:59
took an element from the maki roll and
01:02
and took a picture of a dish and then
01:04
basically served that picture with the dish.
01:06
So this dish in particular is basically
01:09
champagne with seafood.
01:11
The champagne grapes that you see are
01:13
actually carbonated grapes. A little bit of
01:15
seafood and some crème fraiche and the
01:17
picture actually tastes exactly like the dish. (Laughter)
01:19
BR: But it's not all just edible pictures.
01:22
We decided to do something
01:24
a little bit different and transform flavors
01:26
that were very familiar -- so in this case,
01:28
we have carrot cake.
01:31
So we take a carrot cake, put it
01:33
in a blender, and we have kind of like
01:35
a carrot cake juice, and then that went into
01:37
a balloon frozen in liquid nitrogen to create
01:39
this hollow shell of carrot cake
01:41
ice cream, I guess, and it comes off
01:44
looking like, you know,
01:46
Jupiter's floating around your plate.
01:48
So yeah, we're transforming things into
01:50
something that you have absolutely
01:52
no reference for.
01:54
HC: And here's something we have no
01:56
reference to eat. This is a cigar, and
01:58
basically it's a Cuban cigar made out of
02:00
a Cuban pork sandwich, so we take these
02:02
spices that go into the pork shoulder,
02:04
we fashion that into ash. We take
02:06
the sandwich and wrap it up in
02:08
a collard green, put an edible label
02:10
that bears no similarity to
02:12
a Cohiba cigar label, and we put it
02:14
in a dollar ninety-nine ashtray and charge
02:16
you about twenty bucks for it. (Laughter)
02:18
HC: Delicious.
02:21
BR: That's not it, though.
02:23
Instead of making foods that
02:25
look like things that you wouldn't eat,
02:27
we decided to make ingredients
02:29
look like dishes that you know.
02:31
So this is a plate of nachos.
02:33
The difference between our nachos
02:35
and the other guy's nachos,
02:37
is that this is actually a dessert.
02:39
So the chips are candied,
02:41
the ground beef is made from chocolate,
02:43
and the cheese is made from a shredded
02:45
mango sorbet that gets shredded
02:47
into liquid nitrogen to look like cheese.
02:49
And after doing all of this
02:51
dematerialization and reconfiguring
02:53
of this, of these ingredients, we realized
02:56
that it was pretty cool,
02:59
because as we served it, we learned that
03:01
the dish actually behaves like the real thing,
03:03
where the cheese begins to melt.
03:05
So when you're looking at this thing
03:07
in the dining room, you have this sensation
03:09
that this is actually a plate of nachos,
03:11
and it's not really until you begin tasting it
03:13
that you realize this is a dessert, and
03:15
it's just kind of like a mind-ripper.
03:17
(Laughter)
03:20
HC: So we had been creating
03:22
all of these dishes out of a
03:24
kitchen that was more like
03:26
a mechanic's shop than a kitchen, and
03:28
the next logical step for us was to install
03:30
a state-of-the-art laboratory,
03:32
and that's what we have here.
03:34
So we put this in the basement, and we
03:36
got really serious about food, like
03:38
serious experimentation.
03:40
BR: One of the really cool things about
03:42
the lab, besides that we have a new
03:44
science lab in the kitchen, is that,
03:46
you know, with this new equipment, and
03:48
this new approach, all these
03:50
different doors to creativity that we never
03:52
knew were there began to open, and so the
03:54
experiments and the food and the dishes
03:56
that we created, they just kept going
03:58
further and further out there.
04:01
HC: Let's talk about flavor transformation,
04:03
and let's actually make some cool stuff.
04:05
You see a cow with its tongue hanging out.
04:07
What I see is a cow about to eat something
04:09
delicious. What is that cow eating?
04:11
And why is it delicious?
04:14
So the cow, basically, eats three basic
04:16
things in their feed: corn, beets, and barley,
04:18
and so what I do is I actually
04:22
challenge my staff with these crazy,
04:24
wild ideas. Can we take what the cow
04:26
eats, remove the cow, and then make
04:29
some hamburgers out of that?
04:31
And basically the reaction tends to be
04:33
kind of like this. (Laughter)
04:35
BR: Yeah, that's our chef de cuisine,
04:37
Chris Jones. This is not the only guy
04:39
that just flips out when we assign
04:41
a ridiculous task, but a lot of these ideas,
04:43
they're hard to understand.
04:46
They're hard to just get automatically.
04:48
There's a lot of research and a lot of
04:50
failure, trial and error -- I guess, more error --
04:53
that goes into each and every dish,
04:56
so we don't always get it right, and it takes
04:58
a while for us to be able to explain that
05:00
to people.
05:02
HC: So, after about a day of Chris and I
05:04
staring at each other, we came up with
05:06
something that was pretty close
05:08
to the hamburger patty, and as you can
05:10
see it basically forms like hamburger meat.
05:12
This is made from three ingredients:
05:14
beets, barley, corn, and so it
05:17
actually cooks up like hamburger meat,
05:19
looks and tastes like hamburger meat,
05:21
and not only that, but it's basically
05:23
removing the cow from the equation.
05:26
So replicating food, taking it into that
05:28
next level is where we're going.
05:31
(Applause)
05:33
BR: And it's definitely the world's first
05:36
bleeding veggie burger,
05:38
which is a cool side effect.
05:40
And a miracle berry, if you're not familiar
05:43
with it, is a natural ingredient, and it
05:45
contains a special property.
05:47
It's a glycoprotein called miraculin,
05:49
a naturally occurring thing. It still freaks
05:51
me out every time I eat it, but it has a
05:53
unique ability to mask certain taste
05:55
receptors on your tongue, so that primarily
05:57
sour taste receptors, so normally things
05:59
that would taste very sour or tart,
06:01
somehow begin to taste very sweet.
06:03
HC: You're about to eat a lemon,
06:06
and now it tastes like lemonade.
06:08
Let's just stop and think about the
06:10
economic benefits of something like that.
06:12
We could eliminate sugar across the board
06:14
for all confectionary products and sodas,
06:16
and we can replace it with
06:18
all-natural fresh fruit.
06:20
BR: So you see us here cutting up
06:22
some watermelon. The idea with this
06:24
is that we're going to eliminate tons of
06:26
food miles, wasted energy,
06:28
and overfishing of tuna by creating tuna,
06:31
or any exotic produce or item
06:34
from a very far-away place,
06:37
with local, organic produce;
06:40
so we have a watermelon from Wisconsin.
06:43
HC: So if miracle berries take sour things
06:45
and turn them into sweet things,
06:47
we have this other pixie dust
06:49
that we put on the watermelon, and it
06:51
makes it go from sweet to savory.
06:53
So after we do that, we put it into
06:56
a vacuum bag, add a little bit of seaweed,
06:58
some spices, and we roll it, and this
07:00
starts taking on the appearance of tuna.
07:03
So the key now is to make it
07:05
behave like tuna.
07:07
BR: And then after a quick dip into some
07:09
liquid nitrogen to get that perfect sear,
07:11
we really have something that looks,
07:14
tastes and behaves like the real thing.
07:16
HC: So the key thing to remember here is,
07:19
we don't really care
07:22
what this tuna really is.
07:25
As long as it's good for you and good for
07:27
the environment, it doesn't matter.
07:29
But where is this going?
07:31
How can we take this idea of tricking your
07:33
tastebuds and leapfrog it into something
07:35
that we can do today that could be
07:37
a disruptive food technology?
07:39
So here's the next challenge.
07:41
I told the staff, let's just take a bunch
07:43
of wild plants, think of them as
07:45
food ingredients. As long as they're
07:47
non-poisonous to the human body,
07:49
go out around Chicago sidewalks,
07:51
take it, blend it, cook it and then
07:53
have everybody flavor-trip on it at Moto.
07:55
Let's charge them a boatload of cash for this
07:58
and see what they think. (Laughter)
08:00
BR: Yeah, so you can imagine, a task
08:04
like this -- this is another one of those
08:06
assignments that the kitchen staff
08:08
hated us for. But we really had to almost
08:10
relearn how to cook in general,
08:12
because these are ingredients, you know,
08:15
plant life that we're, one, unfamiliar with,
08:17
and two, we have no reference for how
08:19
to cook these things because
08:21
people don't eat them.
08:23
So we really had to think about new, creative ways
08:25
to flavor, new ways to cook
08:27
and to change texture -- and that was
08:29
the main issue with this challenge.
08:31
HC: So this is where we step into the future
08:33
and we leapfrog ahead.
08:36
So developing nations
08:38
and first-world nations,
08:40
imagine if you could take these wild plants
08:42
and consume them, food miles would
08:44
basically turn into food feet.
08:46
This disruptive mentality of what food is
08:48
would essentially open up the encyclopedia
08:50
of what raw ingredients are, even if we just
08:53
swapped out, say, one of these for flour,
08:55
that would eliminate so much energy
08:57
and so much waste.
09:00
And to give you a simple example here as to
09:02
what we actually fed these customers,
09:04
there's a bale of hay there
09:06
and some crab apples.
09:08
And basically we took hay and crab apples
09:10
and made barbecue sauce out of those two ingredients.
09:12
People swore they were eating
09:14
barbecue sauce, and this is free food.
09:16
BR: Thanks, guys.
09:19
(Applause)
09:22

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Ben Roche - Chef
Ben Roche is the pastry chef at Moto, in Chicago, and was the co-host, with Homaro Cantu, of the TV show "Future Food."

Why you should listen
Ben Roche is the pastry chef of Moto restaurant in Chicago and co-host of the series "Future Food" on Discovery’s Planet Green network. Classically trained, he comes up with food concepts and/or dishes that draw inspiration from all over: as he says, "mechanical, artistic, experimental, etc."
Homaro Cantu - Chef
The executive chef at Chicago's Moto restaurant, Homaro Cantu created postmodern cuisine and futuristic food delivery systems.

Why you should listen

You could call Homaro Cantu a chef -- or an inventor of futuristic food delivery systems. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Portland, Oregon, he worked in Charlie Trotter’s restaurant in Chicago, where he rose to the position of sous chef, then left to found Moto, a path-breaking restaurant with a molecular gastronomy approach. Moto puts Cantu’s concepts and creations into practice by melding food with science, technology and art. Michael Eisner once described Cantu as the most revolutionary person in food since Ray Kroc.

Through his company Cantu Designs, Chef Cantu filed numerous patent applications covering dining implements, cookware, printed food and hoped to develop his inventions for commercial, humanitarian and aerospace applications. In 2013 he released The Miracle Berry Diet Cookbook to imagine uses for the flavor-tripping "miracle fruit." As he said: "Any idea's a great idea as long as it tastes great." Cantu passed away in April 2015.

 

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