Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Homaro Cantu: I lied to get a job at a fast-food restaurant called Caesar Chicken. I wanted to work with the tandoori oven. Then I became fascinated with food.
AB: You attended Le Cordon Bleu in Portland, Oregon. How important is traditional culinary school education these days?
HC: The importance of school is to flood the workplace with talents. So culinary school is essential to supply the workforce with cooks to be culinary professionals. Everyone who works here works in front of the house. Everyone does a rotation for 3 months. There are 20 different positions. Polishing silver, working in meat, serving tables, each position carries equal weight. We call it our chef’s service. A sweep in the kitchen is just as important as any job.
AB: Who are your mentors?
HC: Paul Allen (co- founder of Microsoft), for his leadership and philanthropy. Stephen Hawking (theoretical physicist) – he defined black holes.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
HC: To be creative but not to copy. In order to create new food, one needs to create new tools.
AB: Tell me about some of the culinary techniques that you have created.
HC: The most interesting is with ionic particles. What I use the most is liquid nitrogen. I’m using edible papers. Also I take a cryovac bag and do sous vide in hot oil. It allows you to do flash sous vide cooking, creating a new flavor profile.
AB: Is your restaurant profitable? How do you afford to experiment with costly equipment and products?
HC: Yes, we’re profitable. We don’t follow the classical model in the kitchen. With only offering tasting menus, I know exactly what is going to be served. We don’t waste money on unused product. Our food cost is 20-25%.
AB: How would you describe the people who come to work for you?
HC: I couldn’t lump them into one group. Some knock on the door, some email. (When I worked for Trotter I knocked on the back door.) I look for people that have the energy and the dedication.
AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
HC: Are you sure you want to do this? In 2 years will you remember why you are here?
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
HC: I prefer to stage. That’s where I really got my education. I have to do things hands- on.
AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
HC: Chicago! We have the financial wherewithal to experiment.
AB: What are your favorite restaurants in Chicago?
HC: Alinea and Avenues.
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
HC: Tasting menus with less classical interpretations. The diner has to give up freedom of choice with the tasting menu format versus à la carte. There’s also a sudden influx of chefs working in the dining room.
AB: What do you think of Ferrán?
HC: I think he is a great chef. We are dealing with the same difficulties that Ferrán faced in terms of negativity towards new ideas.
AB: Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
HC: Hopefully doing exactly what I’m doing today. We are working on a science documentary on the restaurant and team.