Many planners understand the panic that sets in when they hear those five little words during a midday break: “We’re out of Diet Coke.” But what if you could replace soda with a healthier alternative that has the same fizzy appeal—say, carbonated grapes? That’s the dream of Homaro Cantu, a self-described inventor, restaurateur, designer and chef, and the visionary behind Berrista, a new cafe concept that’s making waves in Chicago and beyond.
“We need to think more like NASA when it comes to innovating food.” —Homaro Cantu, Berrista
Berrista is the world’s first establishment based on the science behind the miracle berry, which, when consumed, causes sour foods to temporarily taste sweet. Its chefs produce healthier versions of junk food items like doughnuts, coffeecake and chicken-and-waffle sandwiches, all of which are made without sugar but taste sweet after consuming the berry. The grapes are one of Cantu’s side projects, made with a special contraption he invented that takes carbon dioxide output from a stove and pressurizes the grapes to make them taste like grape soda.
Don’t expect to see these items on catering menus any time soon. Cantu says the idea isn’t ready to go mainstream yet.
“It’s taken me nine years to get to just one little coffee shop,” he says. “The reason it’s so challenging is no one knows what it does. For the last 300 years we’ve been reinventing food around sugar. Anything without sugar tastes terrible. You make a cookie and you take the sugar out. Now what do you have? A lump of dough.”
Cantu speaks at 30 to 50 events a year, including Food Matters Live (a conference addressing the relationships between food, nutrition and health) in London this November. For that conference, he’s creating special cakes for attendees and passing out small gift boxes that contain the miracle berry, something he says is very cost-prohibitive in most instances.
“Just one recipe takes months to figure out,” he notes.
He challenges catering teams to think way outside the box when it comes to shaking up events, even going as far to suggest allotting an innovation budget to hire engineers to come up with new ideas.
“We need to think more like NASA when it comes to innovating food,” he says. “We can sauce a plate 800 ways, but at the end of the day we’re just putting the same old food on the plate.”