When Mike Randolph, owner and executive chef at Público, was interviewing for jobs 10 years ago in Chicago, he was intimidated by many of the chefs he met—but not Homaro Cantu.
“He blew me away,” Randolph says of his first impression of Cantu, who was the executive chef at Moto in Chicago. “He was just a really nice, really affable guy… I felt at ease with Omar.”
In April, Cantu passed away at the age of 38. Randolph, along with Niche executive chef Nate Hereford—both who have worked under Cantu at Moto—will host a benefit dinner July 20 in his honor. Randolph says he knew he and Hereford shared similar experiences at Moto, and they reached out to each other after news broke of Cantu’s death.
“We went from, ‘Isn’t this terrible?’ to ‘What can we do?’” Randolph (right) says.
They decided to put on the dinner to support Cantu’s surviving wife and two daughters, and to expose St. Louisans to Cantu’s legacy. The dinner will benefit the Cantu Children’s Trust. “We want to pay tribute the only way we know how,” Randolph says.
The dinner consists of a 12-course menu put together by Randolph and Hereford, who says this was one of the most enjoyable parts of organizing the dinner. They pair also reached out to local chefs at restaurants such as Peacemaker and Pastaria for help.
“The most fun part was me and Mike sitting down and talking for 45 minutes about dishes,” Hereford says. “We came up with maybe 30 and wondered if they could pull it off.”
Hereford worked at Moto for about a year and a half in 2007. He says the days were long and stressful, but he was impressed by Omar’s down-to-earth demeanor and “go for it” mantra.
“Every Tuesday we had to come in a couple hours early and have a meeting about dishes,” Hereford says, “the weirder the better.”
For example, Hereford describes Moto’s nacho dessert dish—what looked like melted cheese was actually mango sorbet and what resembled beef was actually chocolate. And on one occasion at Moto, Hereford’s friend dressed up as a FedEx employee and delivered a customer their dish.
Hereford (right) says they’ve applied that whimsicality to the benefit dinner as the aim is to honor a unique chef and, simply, to have fun—a piece of advice Cantu told both Randolph and Hereford during their time at Moto.
“I would venture to guess [the dinner] will be unlike anything diners in St. Louis have been exposed to,” Randolph says. “In a perfect world, diners will be forced to refocus their ideas of what a meal should be, how it should be served to you, and to laugh quite a bit. That’s one of the big things Omar taught us.”
The benefit dinner for Homaro Cantu will take place July 20 at Público (6679 Delmar). Tickets are $125 per person. Make a reservation on OpenTable or by calling Público at 314-833-5780.