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Moto Restaurant Offers a Different Kind of Cooking Class

By Janet Rausa Fuller | February 11, 2013 6:58am

WEST LOOP — Moto's first cooking class won't be like most cooking classes. Then again, the restaurant at 945 W. Fulton Market is pretty atypical.

The Feb. 17 class will start not in a kitchen, but in Moto's basement "lab," where chef Homaro Cantu tinkers with lasers and miracle berries in his quest to eliminate sugar from the diet.

Those lasers and berries? Guests will get to tinker with those — and a viscometer and rotary evaporator — during the class, too.

They'll check out the indoor farm, in a room about the size of a walk-in closet, that Cantu says has saved him about $2,000 a week in food costs since installing it a year ago.

Finally, in more traditional fashion, they'll move to the kitchen to cook lunch, drink wine and hang with Cantu. The three-hour class costs $300.

Cantu, known for his Willy Wonka-esque experimental cooking, said he is developing an expanded "research facility" and wants to "start educating people about what we've been working on for the past couple of years."

Much of that work involves the miracle berry, a fruit that, when eaten, temporarily tricks taste buds into perceiving sour and bitter flavors as sweet. Cantu's first book, "The Miracle Berry Diet Cookbook," was published in January. At iNG, his second restaurant next door to moto, the menu is designed for use with the miracle berry.

Cantu is even growing a miracle berry plant in the indoor farm, alongside with arugula, kohlrabi, basil and broccoli that he started from seed.

It's a self-sustaining system that looks like stacks of metal shelves. The shelves are actually plant beds.

Food scraps from moto's kitchen are turned into compost, which is steeped in water. That "tea" then passes through an aerator and is used to water the plants, which grow quickly under energy-efficient LED lights.

Cantu is toying with different composts and colored lights to suit each plant. Banana peels, it turns out, make ideal compost for tomatoes. Beets, with their purple-tinged leaves, respond better and faster under red light, he said.

During the class, attendees will make a sugar-free dessert to eat with the miracle berry. They'll leave with a swag bag that will include more miracle berries and a signed copy of Cantu's cookbook.

Six of the 24 spots remain open.

"We have some hardcore fans," Cantu said. "About half are flying in from out of state."