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Homaro Cantu Planting Seeds to Open New Lab, Brewery at The Green Exchange

Homaro Cantu recently revealed plans to open a new lab and brewery at the Green Exchange in Chicago, but while he has big ideas, the deal isn't 100 percent sealed. If and when it does go through, it could mean great things for food science.

Cantu told Eater he's working on building out a multimillion-dollar 5,000-square-foot lab "that will be designed to work on disruptive green technologies in any facet of the food industry," he said. In addition, he's planning Outside the Box Brewing Company with iNG head brewer Trevor Hamblin to work on "a new alcohol product that breaks down in your body differently than standard beverages," Cantu said. The brewery, he said, will be about twice the size of the lab. Both projects are forecast to open in summer or fall. "We're not rushing it," he said. "We want to do it right."

While plans seem to be moving in a good direction and Eater hears that even architects have been out to survey the space, the deal at the Green Exchange hasn't been completed. "We are currently in negotiations with several restaurateurs to open in the Green Exchange," said a spokesperson for the Green Exchange, "but at this time no lease has been executed."

Hopefully that will change soon because based on a conversation with Cantu, it sounds like he's excited and ready to move forward with his two projects. "When [Green Exchange owner and developer David Baum] asked me to move into the Green Exchange to do a food operation," Cantu said, "I flipped it around because I wanted to do this lab and shake up the food industry ... in order to create a sustainable food system that can help out Third World countries or eliminate sugar from the diet."

Cantu's team is already working on developing a vegan egg for Beyond Eggs that could help eliminate issues around salmonella or food-borne viruses. And he has already discovered numerous benefits to working with the miracle berry, for which he has designed a multi-course menu around at iNG and wants to continue that work.

Through more research and development, Cantu wants to discover ways to eliminate sugar and create products that can be licensed to major companies like Coke and Pepsi. By working with multi-nationals, they can take the revenues and use it in a non-profit manner to help work on famine relief, he added. "We're trying to create a new system so companies can say, 'Yeah, we want a new product that works but we also want to go green,'" he said.

Cantu said they're installing an indoor vertical farm at his molecular gastronomy restaurant, Moto, that will yield a new crop of micro greens every two weeks. In order to keep farmers involved, they plan to buy their seeds at two times the profit margin so the farmers can actually make more money and have less to maintain. "The oil man gets cut out of the deal," Cantu said. "The total cost of the indoor farm will pay for itself in 90 days. We're creating a footprint for any restaurant to use this."

And he plans to take the concept to the Green Exchange, where Cantu said he's planning to install vertical farms throughout the building, including adding a chicken farm outside and two beehives on the roof. "We're testing to see if we can grow enough product for a high volume brewery in the building itself," he said.

Where the brewery is concerned, it'll start out as a simple production, but grow into an operation where you can "drive home after five beers completely sober." Cantu said the product they're developing lets you to drink numerous beers and then, based on how it breaks down in the body, allows you to sober up 20 minutes later. Cantu claims it'll help eliminate alcoholism and drunk driving. As for products, they're planning a variety of nano brews, including a doughnut coffee stout and a fruit nut beer aged in Champagne barrels. Staying on the green tip, Cantu adds that many of the ingredients going into the beers are scraps that would otherwise be thrown away and wasted.

The work Cantu is planning is forward thinking and innovative and has a positive impact in the long run. "We're not just doing it to just make a buck," he said. "That being said, I'm very optimistic about the future of our food system. We have a lot of great things we're working on. Our time has come."
· Homaro Cantu: Interview [Super Chef]

Homaro Cantu [Photo: Moto]

Eater Chicago intern Jeffy Mai contributed to this article.

Moto Restaurant

945 W Fulton Street, Chicago, IL 60607 312 491 0058 Visit Website

iNG Restaurant

951 W Fulton Street, Chicago, IL 60607 Visit Website

The Green Exchange

2545 W. Diversey, Chicago, IL