March 30, 2007 12:37 PM PDT
Newsmaker: For Chicago chef, it's prepare, print, serveSee all Newsmakers
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Usually found in an operating room or welding shop, a Class 4 laser is just one of the tools Moto chef Homaro Cantu uses to bend diners' expectations of what's edible.
A thick confidentiality agreement prohibits this reporter from describing more about this culinary rabbit hole where meals are printed on edible paper, frozen instantly in liquid nitrogen, and baked in polymer ovens that fit in the palm of your hand. (Foodies often fly into town and shell out $165, plus wine, for a taste of the far-out meals.)
Cantu first attracted national attention by serving edible menus printed with a Canon inkjet. In a January episode of Food Network cult hit Iron Chef America, he dethroned chef Masaharu Morimoto.
But Cantu says he's not merely trying to hog the spotlight; he wants to bring Moto's innovations to the masses and revolutionize the way the world eats. The Cordon Bleu graduate has filed 16 patents and continues to tweak technologies through his skunk works, Cantu Designs. Lately, Cantu has been negotiating with big-brand stores to bring his multifunctional kitchen utensils to store shelves. Cantu sat down with CNET recently for an interview.
Q: What are these utensils you're working on?
Cantu: The multitools are things that do more in your kitchen than existing housewares do. A pan that could change shapes. A cutting board that has multiple functions...Maybe it's a scale, maybe with a sharpening stone on one side. A knife that can transform into 10 different knives, sort of like a switchblade, but you buy one knife and you get 10. I talk in very vague terms because I don't want to get specific, but we're rolling out these multitools with a major retailer.
That's the goal, to get people to buy less and consume less. We're very conservation friendly. We don't even work with paper in the kitchen. We have an all-digital proprietary software system that enables me to track profits and losses in real time, and we're going to bring that to the market as well. So if you don't use paper, you don't use cellulose. You're not using dyes that are harmful, and you're using a much smaller amount of juice in the world when you just go electric.
Did you build that software yourself? Do you code?
Cantu: Yes. I'm very big on open-source and that's a contradiction for me, because I patent everything. But why do I patent everything? Because I want to be first to market. Most importantly, I want to take those patents one day and make them open-source.
Here we use technology in a way that enables us to do more, but do we hire less people? No, we get those people doing more creative jobs...Right now, downstairs my cooks are looking at a giant 60-inch screen projection and they follow their prep lists on this. We don't use paper. And when they're done, it knocks those things off the prep list. It can also speak with dishwashers who might not speak English.
Does it have a touch screen system or a keyboard?
Cantu: Voice-activated. Touch screens are very energy consuming. And we have this thing called the Nabaztag.
The little bunny?
Cantu: Yeah, the Nabaztag utilizes a third of the amount of energy as a laptop or PC, and you don't have to be a genius to work it. I use it downstairs for my e-mail...These sorts of things are going to enter the kitchen whether we like it or not, because one day it might be too expensive to fire up that gas burner and run it the old way.
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