It was in late 2004 that we at Design Engine first made the acquaintance of Homaro Cantu or Omar, as we have since called him. We heard a lot about the legendary levitating desserts and use of liquid nitrogen to alter and enhance food at his then recently-opened and very-local Moto restaurant – which was just a short 10-minute walk from the Design Engine/Deep Labs studio. It was in the fall of that year that we had our first meeting with Omar, along with his wife Katie (who he had married the previous year,) and his then trusty sidekick and partner Ben Roche.
At this time he already had with him his translucent silicone fish box and he gave us a first hand demonstration of how he utilized both liquid nitrogen and a blow torch alternately for deep-freezing and cooking food. He already held patents on several of the devices shown to us which were worked on before the opening of Moto and he wanted to work with a design and engineering group that could further help him actualize some ideas he had nurtured since he left Charlie Trotter in 2003.
These early meetings resulted in what would become over a decade long collaboration and by the first half of 2005, the early iterations of the first generation of olfactory utensils were being drawn in Pro/E by staff industrial designers Mike Vostal and Alfredo Santillan working under the tutelage of Deep Labs/Design Engine principal and Pro/E specialist Bart Brejcha.
As early as 2005, Omar was already thinking ahead to the use of lasers to cook food, utilizing 3D printers (additive manufacturing) for future products and finalizing plans for edible paper. From the very first meeting, it seemed that this partnership in the area of product design was a perfect marriage and meeting of minds in that both, Omar and we at Deep Labs, were both proponents of a maverick, futurist and often unorthodox approach to design and engineering. We always welcomed projects that allowed us to be at our most creative and forward thinking and this mindset was further reflected in our training arm at Design Engine ED where courses in 3D design and engineering software where customized and traditional structures and course books were disposed.
While there were other notable partnerships and collaborations over the years, some with large, established, brand name firms, it was the Deep Labs/Cantu Designs alliance that will remain one of our proudest achievements and the resulting innovative forward thinking products are a high point in both firms histories.
While his renowned name and reputation as a chef has been heralded and acknowledged for many years, equally vital to his legacy is his work as a designer, inventor and food technologist. In recent years, his focus become more humanitarian and health-minded in nature, as was reflected in his interest in the miracle berry, which would have the potential of diminishing our addiction to sugar or applying food storage and preservation technologies to help alleviate starvation and malnutrition globally.
Having had the privilege of working with and spending time with him earlier this year, it was often a matter of constant editing and discerning by drawing distinction between ideas deemed impractical on one hand, and viable on the other. It was a further challenge to articulate and actualize these ideas and bring them to fruition. As someone, who in my formative years in the late 20th century, was dissuaded from pursuing a culinary education because of what I perceived was a Eurocentric slant in the cooking schools at the time, it was refreshing to hear someone who could be matter of fact or even dismissive of having a star in the Michelin restaurant book and was not beholden to the conventional standards and institutions that defined his profession. At his very core was a willingness to ask why something hadn’t been done before and what would be required to make something possible. It was this kind of thinking that will always be a source of inspiration for me and I hope will continue to inspire others when they remember him in the years ahead.
Over a decade ago, when talking to the media about some of his first generations of innovations, I remarked “he challenges every preconceived notion about food”. This phrase became my most often repeated quote for many years after. In retrospect what might be just as relevant when thinking about his life would be the abbreviated “he challenges every preconceived notion.”
Article written by David Mazovick for Design Engine May 1st, 2015