Homaro Cantu Wants to Grow French Truffles in Chicago

Moto chef plans house-grown black truffles

If anybody can manage to grow Perigord truffles in Chicago, it’s probably laser-wielding chef and renowned tech guy Homaro Cantu.

"Today's crazy idea of the day! Let's start growing our own in house French Perigord Truffles," he wrote on Facebook. "Why not? They cost 1,000.00 per pound and we have an indoor farm that can create the perfect growing conditions."

It sounds nuts, but he already has the ideal plant-growing supervillain lair in the kitchen at Moto, where a former office space was converted into an aeroponic farm where fresh herbs are grown in arty-looking white towers that are "blasted with water and nutrients from the inside," according to pastry chef Ben Roche, who introduced the grow house in a video.

Watering the plants from inside means nutrients and water go right to the roots, while the plant’s leaves are exposed to air and light. The lights in the room are on timers so the restaurant can control how much every single plant gets. Every detail of the plant-growing experience can be controlled in the lab, which makes Cantu confident he can duplicate the ideal growing conditions for his truffles.

"Truffles?" commented Alinea co-owner Nick Kokonas. "If you can grow French truffles chef I'll invest as much money as you need and pay you extra just for fun. However, I know a few ppl who have done so "successfully" in the southern US and: 1) it takes a looong time 2) the product lacks a depth of flavor similar to Chinese truffles — terroir really matters. No one has yet cracked the Truffle growing code.... and many, many have tried."

Many may have tried, but those people don’t have Cantu’s crazy farm/lab, or his chutzpah.

"Nothing beats a good challenge," he replied. "Sound science and replicating a truffle's environment is far from impossible."

Cantu estimates that it will take two to three months to grow usable truffle samples.