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July 2011 Archives

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[photo by Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times]

For his cookbook debut, Homaro Cantu could easily have gone the shiny, coffee-table paperweight route.

Instead, Cantu, the Cheshire cat-like chef and owner of moto and iNG on West Fulton, is working on a diet book. A miracle berry diet book.

The little-known African berry temporarily re-sets your taste buds to taste sweet in even the most sour, bitter things. Cantu has been experimenting with it at moto and iNG, offering at the latter a kitchen table miracle berry menu. By the fall, he says, he's going to transition iNG to a miracle berry menu-only restaurant.

His obsession with the fruit goes back about six years, when a customer asked Cantu if he could somehow help her friend, who was in chemotherapy, taste again. What he came up with: a miracle berry-infused paper strip that allowed her to taste food as it should taste.

He still makes those strips -- about 500 "doses" weekly -- and sends them to chemo patients gratis. At home, the berry is part of his two young daughters' diets. "Every day after school, they ask for miracle berry and a lemon," Cantu says. Once while gardening, curious about how grass tastes with miracle berry, he and one of his girls tried it. Her response: "It tastes like basil."

Developing recipes for the book has been a bitch. There's a reason why cookies have sugar -- to add sweetness, but also texture, aroma and color. It took Cantu's team six weeks to figure out a sugarless cookie.

Cantu's ice cream recipe has 800 fewer calories than the average recipe, "and it's good enough to have at Ing or moto," he says.

The 150 or so recipes in the book are mostly sweet, and all require that you eat the berry (in tablet form) beforehand; its effects last for 30 to 45 minuts. Cantu says those who buy the book will get a discount on the berry tablets.

His plans for miracle berry are bigger than his backyard, and his diet book (due out next spring). The fruit and the tablets are expensive, but if he can get the prices down -- which he believes he can if the inhalable form he's developing comes to market -- Cantu says this could be the "silver bullet for obesity."

With miracle fruit in the mix, soda is merely soda water and lemon juice. Who needs sugar in it, or anything? "Why try and fight the big soda companies when we can just empower the end user to make it themselves?" Cantu wonders.



The Chicago edition of BlackboardEats, which serves up restaurant and retail food deals exclusive to its subscribers, launches today. The site already operates in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

How does it work? Much like other sites. Sign up as a suscriber, then watch your inbox each week for deals and passcodes. You have 24 hours to retrieve a passcode; the deal -- typically 30 percent off -- is valid for between 30 to 60 days.

Generally, restaurant deals are posted on Tuesdays and Thursdays and products on Wednesdays, but the Chicago edition is starting slowly, with one deal a week on Thursdays.

The first deal is a doozy -- a $60, five-course, "flavor-tripping" prix fixe at Ing, 951 W. Fulton, courtesy of miracle fruit-crazy chef Homaro Cantu. The meal comes with two drinks, though you could argue it's four -- with your taste buds under the influence of miracle berry, the drinks themselves will change flavors as you tipple.

At the helm of BlackboardEats Chicago is writer and chef (and Sun-Times contributor) Louisa Chu, who likens the site to the recently launched Gilt Taste and Open Sky, both of which rely on well-known voices (Ruth Reichl, Tom Colicchio) to recommend restaurants and products. (Other Chicago writers pitching in editorially for Blackboard Eats include David Hammond and Lisa Shames, also Sun-Times contributors.)

The deals won't all be high-end, says Chu. There is one in the works, for example, with Calumet Fisheries on the Southeast Side.

Ultimately, says Chu, the goal of Blackboard Eats Chicago is to get us off our butts.

"So many of us talk about the great restaurants and chefs we really love and yet, the last time we've been there was five years ago," she says.

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[photo by Scott Stewart~Sun-Times]

Food trucks and the people behind the wheels get some love in Wednesday's Food pages. The cover story is on successful picnic fare, and who better than these mobile maestros to tell us what sorts of foods travel well.

Gaztro-Wagon's Matt Maroni (above), perhaps the most enterprising of them all, shares a recipe for smoked pork shoulder, while Joaquin Soler gives up a version of the Thai-ish brisket he sells on his Brown Bag Lunch Truck.

For those looking at the print version of Soler's recipe, there is an error. The recipe calls for 2 cups brown sugar, but the correct amount should be 1/4 cup.

We also felt it prudent to include with the story a current list of trucks up and running, what they're serving and where you can find them. One more revision to the story: Food Truck Tuesdays, on the northwest corner of North and Halsted, has been extended to run through August.

Next restaurant's first shift -- from Paris 1906 to Tour of Thailand -- is on pace as promised. Chef Grant Achatz dangled the first carrot with a tweet Tuesday promising "Tickets on sale soon" and a link to the menu, and followed up with a bunch of photos from a menu run-through.

This morning, the restaurant announced: "Tickets will likely go on sale for Friday through Sunday tomorrow afternoon. We will follow with the rest of the season shortly thereafter."

So how to get tickets to the arguably the hottest dinner ticket in town? Sign up, if you haven't already, as a new user at nextrestaurant.com, then stretch out your wrist in preparation for the constant mouse-clicking about to ensue.

The restaurant says it has tweaked its software to hopefully make the ticket buying experience a bit more seamless than last time. Still, stretch those wrists.


About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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