Chicago chef Homaro Cantu, famed for blending science and fine dining, found dead at age 38

Chef Homaro Cantu, who artfully blended science and fine dining at his Michelin-starred Chicago restaurant, has died.

The 38-year-old Cantu, one of Chicago's most renowned chefs, turned cooking into alchemy through his playful and surprising brand of molecular gastronomy at Moto, the restaurant he led in the city's West Loop. Customers dined on edible menus, carbonated fruit and a fish preparation that cooked in a tabletop polymer box, among other foods.

His kitchen featured a centrifuge and a hand-held ion particle gun. His menus offered up items with intriguing titles such as "surf and turf with mc escher" and "after christmas sale on christmas trees." And he dreamed up fantastical propositions for everything from alleviating hunger with air-dropped edible leaflets to delivering food to astronauts on Mars.

Describing himself as a scientist at heart, Cantu was untroubled by questions about whether his creations were more science project or true fine cuisine.

"This is fun. I don't care what it winds up being, as long as it's fun," Cantu told The Associated Press in a 2006 interview.

Cantu's body was found Tuesday in a building on the Northwest Side where he had planned to open a brewery by this summer. The Cook County medical examiner's office confirmed the death but did not release a cause. Authorities did not say his death was suspicious.

Cantu grew up in Portland, Oregon, and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu. He worked in nearly 50 kitchens on the West Coast and then moved to Chicago, where he spent four years working for famed chef Charlie Trotter, eventually rising to the position of sous chef before leaving to open Moto. Trotter died in 2013.

Cantu built a state of the art indoor farm to grow vegetables — complete with a vortex aerator — inside what used to be Moto's office. He claimed to be the first chef to zap food with a class IV laser. And he preached the virtues of the West African miracle berry for sweetening food and eliminating the need to use sugar or artificial sweeteners.

In moments of reflection about his work, he could veer into the philosophical and once acknowledged in an interview about his edible replications of food that he wasn't always sure what was real and what wasn't.

"There's a fine line between real and synthetic," he told the AP in 2006. "Real is something that occurs in nature. Synthetic is something that does not. But what if you recreate something on a molecular level that's exact to something that's real? Does it become synthetic, or is it real?"