Imagine a regular high school, with all the typical roles and stereotypes, but populated by established chefs: Brulee Hills 90210. In that school, I'd bet someone like Bobby Flay would be the arrogant jock, Tyler Florence would be the good looking but dim guy all the girls swoon over, and Ina Garten would be the “good time girl,” with a giggle and a flask of something potent at the ready. Score!
What about Homaro Cantu, then, the technology-obsessed chef behind Moto? Well, he'd be the president of the chess club and, let's be honest, the biggest nerd in school. Half his peers would pick on him, slapping him on the head and yelling, "Think, Cantu, think," before tossing him in his locker. The other half, meanwhile, would respect him, perhaps even envy him a little. No one would understand him, however.
This would make poor Homaro very unhappy.
I can't help but thinking that, marginalized by many, poor Homaro -- and I'm talking about the real chef Cantu now -- overcompensates for his nerdiness by being the biggest, baddest nerd he can be. And why not? Sure, some of the kids will ridicule everything you do, but the sympathetic half will become ever more supportive with each new step down the path to uber-geekdom.
In the kitchen, where it really matters, this makes Homaro Cantu a molecular gastronomy chef who thinks too much about the "molecular," and not enough about the "gastronomy."
I say this confidently, especially after our magnificent experience at Alinea. Grant Achatz uses food science judiciously. Most of his dishes are about the food; the science is there if you look for it, but it's subtle. Flavour predominates; the food comes first.
Homaro Cantu is also an abundantly talented chef, but his dishes often seem like they're not about the food. The best molecular gastronomy chefs (Adria, Blumenthal, and Achatz, for example) are able to stop developing a dish when it looks and tastes its best. As he matures, I'm sure Cantu will begin to approach his own creations with the same finesse. I just don't think he's there yet.