Homaro Cantu Wants To Fight Famine with Weeds, Grass and Miracle Berries

By Anthony Todd in Food on Feb 11, 2011 4:40PM

INGlogo.jpg Homaro Cantu, the mad scientist behind Moto, Otom and ING, is well known for making large-scale claims about the importance of his culinary inventions. He has worked with NASA, extolled the virtues of edible paper, and holds many patents for his culinary inventions. Heck, the chef has a display in the Museum of Science and Industry! His work is exciting, and his ideas push the envelope of food innovation. But an article in today's New York Times has us a little skeptical, not only about Chef Cantu's ambitions for the global food landscape but also for the offerings at his new restaurant, ING, which opens on Monday to Valentine's Day patrons. From everything available in the press, many of the restaurant's tricks center around the "miracle berry," which Cantu believes could be "an answer to global hunger."

According to an interview Cantu gave to the Sun-Times in January, a kitchen table at ING will be entirely devoted to the miracle berry - a West African fruit that adjusts the tongue to make sour things taste sweet. Cantu has also been sending members of the media miracle berry tablets through the mail. While this kind of culinary trickery may be interesting (how do you design a dish for what is, effectively, a different tongue than humans have most of the time) it will likely not silence critics who claim that what the molecular gastronomists do is not "real food" and is instead gimickry masquerading as science.

In addition, Cantu told the New York Times that famine is "not only a distribution issue" but is affected by what we think of as food. In other words, rather than changing the global food system to be more sustainable, a solution may be to give starving people miracle berries to expand their definition of food. Cantu lived for a week on weeds and leaves, along with miracle berries, but we have a sneaking suspicion that this will not solve our global food problems. For one thing, miracle berries are quite expensive - fresh, they can cost anywhere from $3-$5 each. In pill form, the price goes down a little, but considering that it can cost significantly less than that to provide sustainable food aid (through an organization like Heifer.org) and that aid lasts more than the 45 minutes that the miracle berry affects the tongue, this doesn't seem like a great solution.

On the other hand, the application to restaurants might be quite interesting. Cantu has announced that the menu at ING will be relatively inexpensive (no dish over $25) and diners will be able to order a la carte. This will hopefully allow more people to experience the fun of Cantu's cuisine, without shelling out the dough for a dinner at Moto. Whatever one might say about about Cantu's prophecies, the man is a great chef. The media preview of ING is on Sunday, so expect more information to come out next week. Are any of our readers going for Valentine's Day?