I write this post with a heavy heart. I’m not supposed to be writing an obituary or “rest in peace” post for a friend, not yet! Homaro Cantu was one of the most creative and ingenious chefs I ever worked with. His ability to think through a problem and solve it was awe-inspiring. There was no “box” he couldn’t break through. Sadly he passed away today.
I first met Homaro when I was a stagiaire at Charlie Trotter’s. Homaro was working the veg station, easily the hardest in the kitchen. It was amazing to see him hold down the station considering some of the dishes he cooked. He station involved hand rolling cannelloni a la minute, a soufflé for a soup garnish and ensuring veg sides were going with other dishes. He made it look easy. My part was trying to stay out of the way while “helping” him.
His genius was prevalent in the execution of the cannelloni. The dish was three completely different pastas with three different fillings. He would cook the sheets of pasta, fill them and then roll them by hand, to say the pasta was hot is an understatement. The first week we would drain and roll them on c-fold towels. My fingertips burned and he reminded me with each cannelloni, “Guy! You’re so slow!” The second week he rigged a drainage system that made it a little easier, but it was still ridiculously hot and hard to do. By week three, he had cracked the code. He would drain the pasta, place it on a silpat sheet, fill it and roll it. It was fast, easy and didn’t seem as hot. It was staggering to see him think through the problem and find a solution.
If you even want to try this at home – cook small lasagna sheets and then when they’re done roll them by hand with any filling. Repeat about 50 more times each day for the rest of the week – and make sure they’re still hot to eat.
I’ll remember Homaro for the passion and love he had for his wife, daughters and restaurant family. He loved telling the story about how he met his wife in the Charlie Trotter kitchen. Homaro also relished his daughters talking about them often when we would see each other. When we lost chef Trotter, Homaro was the one who brought us together and opened his restaurant after the services. I know his restaurant family won’t let his spirit or memory fade.
I can’t begin to understand what happened earlier today. I’m sad, angry and still in shock. I’ll miss Homaro and remember him fondly not only as a chef but a true maverick.
Joe Campagna is the Chicago Food Snob. A former restaurant General Manager, Server and Chef you can find him on twitter or instagram @chifoodsnob. You can reach him through email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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