Homaro Cantu's Devastating 2015 Death

In some ways larger than life itself, Homaro Cantu was a renowned chef known for combining food with science and embracing challenges as opportunities. So, it was devastating when Cantu died in 2015 from suicide (via the Chicago Tribune). In spite of this loss, many look back and remember Cantu fondly, and it's not difficult to see why.

Cantu's early life naturally shaped his future. According to NBC News, Cantu was raised in Oregon, where he experienced homelessness, which he later said made him want to combat food insecurity once he grew up. As a young adult, Cantu graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute in Portland, per Chicago Gourmet, then started his career working at several different food service establishments on the West Coast. Moving to Chicago, Cantu became Sous Chef at a restaurant owned by Charlie Trotter, who acted as a father figure to him, as noted by the New York Times.

After that, Cantu really came into his own, becoming a Windy City culinary icon. Chicago Gourmet documents how he opened Moto Restaurant, where he combined cutting-edge science and molecular gastronomy. Cantu invented things like edible paper that would attain patents, end up in museums, and earn praise in several publications. Cantu would even make TV appearances, cementing himself as a celebrity chef. By the 2010s, Moto earned a Michelin star (via NBC News), and Cantu was launching two new ventures: Berrista and iNG. He was also planning to open a brewery. Cantu's future seemed bright.


Sadly, things took a tragic turn. According to NBC News, Cantu died on April 14, 2015. The cause of death, per the Chicago Tribune, was suicide. By the time he died, iNG had closed. Cantu was also dealing with a lawsuit alleging he mishandled funds invested in his businesses. A New York Times obituary posits that he may have taken on too heavy of a workload, contributing to charities and working on a second cookbook while managing kitchens. Additionally, employee turnover at Moto was high, and Cantu's mentor, Trotter, died just a year earlier. Stress and grief are serious hardships, and many things can take their toll on mental health.

This sort of overextension from a cook is, unfortunately, not exclusive to Cantu. As noted by the New York Times, successful chefs in the modern age are expected to be celebrities, activists, and business owners in addition to gastronomes. Cantu left behind no note, however, so ultimately, we are left to wonder and mourn.


Cantu was survived by his wife, Katie McGowan, whom he'd met when they worked together in Trotter's kitchen, per Chicago Tribune. After his death, she recalled her husband, commenting, "Among his many gifts, he was the most generous person I ever met. If you are one of the many [people] who asked him for a favor, or help, I am positive he made a phone call on your behalf, or found you a job, or comped your meal" (via NBC News). Others, like Chef Art Smith, memorialized him succinctly. Smith tweeted, "RIP Chef Homaro Cantu you brought science to cuisine." Richie Farina, the executive chef at Moto, remembered Cantu by saying, "He created an environment where you weren't afraid. 'No' was never a word you heard here."

Maybe Cantu's legacy will live on in the form of scientific advances. For example, the New York Times notes Cantu championed a miracle berry that could lessen world hunger by eliminating the need for sugar. He might have dreamed big (some may say too big), but one way or another, his optimism will endure in the culinary world.