Moto's Future Food Premiere: We Sea Food Differently

Crystal Cun

March 24 2010 - 11:16 AM

Hold on to your cornstarch-fluffed, flash-frozen hats; Moto is unveiling their TV debut with the series Future Food. The show premieres on Planet Food at 9 pm on Tuesday, March 30. On Monday, Chicago Foodies was invited to attend the premiere preview party, and it was a blast (literally).

If you are unfamiliar with Moto, they are one part magician, one part mad scientist and two parts chef extraordinaire. Place in a Pyrex beaker, heat over a Bunsen burner until the solution is denatured, and serve over a warm bed of wonder. Helmed by Executive Chef Homaro Cantu and Pastry Chef Ben Roche, Moto is one of the restaurants most often associated with the molecular gastronomy movement, and unlike those other stodgy codgers, they embrace and play up their images as scientists and experimentalists. Forget fancy china, and pick up a test tube and beaker instead. On the lower level of the restaurant, there is a full-fledged research laboratory, where no whim is too fanciful to be carried out in real life. Krispy Kreme in an espresso cup? You've got it. Mushrooms without the squishy texture? Even the most die-hard mushroom haters are won over. This is a step inside Willy Wonka's factory, where the boundaries of cooking are constantly redrawn, and shot to pieces with lasers. To protect his technological innovations, Cantu has filed for dozens of patents, including ones for a "food replicator" ink-jet printer that produces edible prints and self-heating utensils with a carbon-dioxide-based charge.

But hold on, why is Future Food being aired on Planet Green of all places? Moto's use of additives and radical alterations seems like the antithesis of the slow food movement classically associated with sustainability, which emphasizes the use of raw ingredients in their natural state. What does all this high-tech wizardry have to do with environmentalism?

For all the playful shenanigans and theatrical stunts, Cantu actually has a serious platform behind his work. Moto sources local and organic ingredients whenever possible, but more than that, Cantu envisions using technological advances to revolutionize the way we feed the world. His food replicator has been presented to NASA as a method of feeding astronauts. A polymer cooking box, which continues to cook food even after the removal of a heat source, could change the way people eat in underdeveloped countries or in the military. Cantu's latest research is on the properties of the miracle fruit, which alters the way we perceive flavors. The berry is of West African origin, and though it is mostly used as a novelty in modern times, it was historically used as a mechanism to fight famine. Most strikingly, sour tastes become sweet after eating a miracle fruit berry. We keep looking for ways to decrease sugar in our diets, said Cantu, and here is one possible solution.

Each episode of Future Food tackles a sustainability or hunger challenge. In one episode, the Moto staff tackles the question of how to get kids to eat their veggies by asking a group of kids for menu ideas. Spaghetti and meatballs that look like a deer's head ensue. In another, Roche and Cantu brainstorm ways to replicate sushi and seafood dishes without the use of seafood. They bring their seared watermelon/faux tuna rolls to unwitting shoppers at Mitsuwa and ask for second opinions. In a testament to the difficulty of this task, the "sushi" is roundly rejected by testers as not the real deal. Moto's success to failure ratio is about 70 to 30, said Roche, but the failures are simply motivation to keep working.

Even if you have doubts about Moto's vision of food in the future (a liquid nitrogen tank in every home?), do check out their show next week. The Moto crew is fun, personable, and highly entertaining to watch. If the coming revolution looks like this, then I am completely on board.

For video previews, check out the clips on Planet Green.

Photos from the Future Food premiere party:

Don't mistake this menu for the ordinary, pressed-pulp kind; it was printed on a cracker using edible ink. Among other things, the evening included funnel cake made out of pheasant, shabu shabu shooters, and flammable chocolate bombs with an exploding graham cracker center. After studying the menu intently, I snagged a plastic pipette filled with cheese and squirted it onto my menu before eating it.

As we settled in to view the first episode of "Future Food," we were given a FedEx envelope filled with packing peanuts. Popping them into your mouth revealed that the seemingly innocuous packing peanuts were actually cornstarch-based nuggets that tasted like popcorn. My recommendation for the next innovation in edible packaging material? Flavored bubble wrap.

Downstairs, Roche answers questions in the Food Lab, decked out with panels of the periodic elements.

Inside the Moto kitchen

Preparing to put pistachio cream icing on the cupcakes, which include a dollop of foie gras in the center.

The finished foie gras cupcakes strike a perfect blend of savory and sweet, and the sprinkles on top are all naturally colored with foods like beets and turmeric.

Arranging trays of mole cannoli

Shredded duck and mole sauce stuffed into cannoli tubes and topped with sour cream, this is definitely unlike anything you would find in an Italian pasticceria.

The finishing touches hadn't been applied yet, but these rolls are Cuban sandwiches designed to look like cigar stubs, with pork, pickle, red pepper and bread wrapped in collard greens. These were served inside ashtrays filled with "ash," or a sesame seed and pepper powder.

Paella in a pipette, speared through a slice of sausage

The Moto staff take a moment to do mock battle. Apparently, they also like to get their kicks by storming the kitchen at sister restaurant Otom.

An oozing spoonful of Reuben lasagna with corned beef, Swiss cheese and a chip on top

Chocolate bombs with a flammable marshmallow fuse and liquid graham cracker center

After the fuse had burned out, we were instructed to eat the chocolate bomb in one bite. The charred fuse added the requisite campfire smokiness to perfectly recreate a s'more.

I was told vigorously in high school chemistry never to drink out of the beakers, but here the rules are different.

Reverse creamsicle shooters, with vanilla packing peanuts flash frozen with liquid nitrogen atop blood orange shots.

Prediction: Moto will be swamped with reservation requests after the kick-off of Future Food, so if you are intrigued, it might be advisable to go there sooner rather than later.

Again, the show debuts on Planet Green on Tuesday, March 30 at 9 pm Central.

Moto
945 W. Fulton
(312) 491-0058
Open Tues-Sat

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