Homaro Cantu, the Michelin-starred executive chef of Chicago’s Moto, who was known for his creative and scientifically innovative cuisine, was found dead yesterday afternoon of an apparent hanging in the space where he was slated to open a brewpub. He was 38, and is survived by his wife, Katie McGowan. His death is being investigated as a possible suicide.
“I'm saddened, I'm broken up,” Trevor Rose-Hamblin, Cantu's brewer and former Moto general manager, told the Chicago Tribune. “This guy was my best friend. He was going to be my business partner.”
Cantu was known for his ability to think outside the gastronomical box, merging science with whimsical cuisine through means that had never been seen before. His creations included a fish that cooked before your eyes in a polymer box and a flowerpot with edible dirt. As an inventor, he was working on creating a synthetic vegan egg, according to the Chicago Tribune. He also worked closely with chef Charlie Trotter, who died in 2013, and had recently been working on the Trotter Project, which is dedicated to "helping young people find their path to a culinary life and livelihood." Most recently, chef Cantu opened a coffee shop that showcased the acai “miracle berry” that can change any sour, bitter, and spicy flavors to sweet. He also had grand ideas for giving back to poor communities in food deserts through molecular cooking.
“I’m at a point where I don’t want to own 10,000 restaurants that just cook food. Now I want to make food that everyone can afford, all the while food that is healthy and delicious,” Cantu told The Daily Meal in a 2012 interview. “What I want to do is give small operators the ability to open up something that is inexpensive in low-income communities that will compete with the junk food joints and ultimately make them obsolete.”
Cantu was the subject of controversy earlier this year. In March, The Daily Meal reported that Alexander Espalin, an investor in Cantu’s restaurants, filed a lawsuit against him for withdrawing money from Moto to pay for personal expenses, and for withholding profits from his investors. It is not known whether this incident was connected to his death.
Many people in the chef community have voiced their grief and consolation to Cantu and his family. Chefs and food personalities on Twitter expressed their condolences, including José Andrés, Scott Conant, Andrew Zimmern, Rick Bayless, Richard Blaise, and others.
"His child-like wonder was a beautiful presence to be in the midst of," said chef Norman Van Aken, who worked closely with Cantu on the Trotter Project. "He had a purity and earnestness that made him remarkable. The pain that drove him to this place is something we cannot understand and only can wish never existed for him… or anyone with his generous and seeking mind. Our hearts go out to his family first and foremost."