Interview: Chef Homaro Cantu and Chef Ben Roche on Future Food
By L. Stolpman in Food on Mar 25, 2010 4:00PM
Chicagoist: Can you tell us about the concept of Future Food and how it developed?
Chef Roche: I would say that it developed very naturally. If you look at some of the food that we prepare here and the ideas that we have as a restaurant and as a company, it makes sense - it's very visual stuff. There are so many dishes ...and just the delivery or the process and the creativity behind coming up with all of this stuff, it just makes for good T.V. so after a couple of years of these TV crews coming in and doing five minute segments, the next step? Why not make a whole show about it.
Chicagoist: How did the partnership with Planet Green come about?
Chef Cantu: We had a production company come in about four and a half years ago...this was before the Planet Green inception. It put the idea in our head that we should stay true to our vision. A lot of the production companies tried to shape us into something that we weren't. We wanted to stay as true to what we do as possible.
If you just look at the edible menu, which goes back 7 years now, it's the greenest menu on the planet. 22 tons of paper around the world in menus in restaurants alone are thrown away every day. So you can argue that we've been the greenest restaurant from day one. There's just always been this sort of outside-the-box green thinking.
And we finally got to a point with the right production partners who said, okay, we'll do this in Chicago, we'll do it in your restaurant - because that was the deal breaker for me, we wanted to do this in the restaurant, as it happened, showcase the real characters of this place, not just Ben and I - but the team as a whole because this is a team effort, and make it as real as possible.
The trick was getting this stuff to a larger audience, to understand this stuff. So we built the studio and we morphed the show into something in which everybody could get the passion, the drive and the desire - which is what Planet Green is really about. They're about thinking outside the box, getting people to look at things a little differently. That's how it happened. We found the right production team that was willing to take the risk with us.
After the cut, see more of our interview with Chef Roche and Chef Cantu as well as a picture of one of the dishes created in Episode one which was served at the premiere (click here for more photos from the premiere).
Chicagoist: Is the show filmed entirely in the restaurant?
Chef Cantu: Well... you'll see. The lab first, where the ideas are conceived, then the kitchen, where we actually hand off challenges to the team. But every episode is so starkly different from another one - there's not always a challenge in the kitchen. Ben and I go out into the real world. We might go to the Willis Tower, or Hot Doug's...
Chef Roche: A lot of times it [the show] starts off where there's a shot of me and Omar getting into work and we go into the kitchen and see what's happening and then we come up with the idea that carries through the show - like, maybe we want to recycle food or maybe we want to create fish that has no seafood in it. So it goes from crazy idea in the lab, experimenting and coming up with some dishes, taking those out on the field and testing them, seeing what people think, coming back [to the kitchen], seeing what happens with the crew because we've left them a challenge, like, hey this is what we're doing, let's see if you can do it, too. Maybe it will work out, maybe it won't. Maybe the restaurant will burn down. Who knows? Then we serve it in the restaurant and see what paying customers think. So there's this element of...not drama, but suspense. "Are we going to be able to do this? Will it taste like crap? Will people love it?" You see a little bit of all that stuff.
Chicagoist: Have any of the creations from the show stuck around?
Chef Roche: There's some stuff from the show that we've kept on our menu. For example, there's a cheese course that's on our 20 course menu right now and that was taken from an episode where we're actually recycling French toast that was cooked for staff breakfast, turning that into a crepe batter, making that into crepes and then turning the crepes into a French cheese selection. There're a few dishes that really stood out and we've kept them.
Chicagoist: We're curious: have either of you ever studied chemistry?
Chef Cantu: (laughing) Google chemistry.
Chicagoist: What message are you hoping to relay with your show?
Chef Cantu: Don't wait for change. Do it yourself.
Chef Roche: Yeah, I think anyone who watches the show... people are going to get different things out of it but people are going to get a positive message because they see us in our element having fun doing what we're doing, trying to make positive change. And I think they may be not so intimidated by food anymore. That's something I hope people get...that just because we work in this restaurant and have this lab doesn't mean that you can't be creative at home and come up with a better way to get your kid to eat vegetables.
Chef Cantu: I think that the unique thing about the show is that is funny, it's entertaining, it's educational and it doesn't put a negative stamp on what the future can be like. We're not fatalists here. We think that the solutions are very simple to the food issues we face today. The solutions have been in front of us for a long time. We just take the simplest route to getting to that positive structure of change.
Chicagoist: What's on the horizon for moto?
Chef Cantu: Taking the first season's ideas and make them bigger. Make it a reality, not just T.V.