Homaro Cantu went from being homeless while growing up to becoming a famed chef in Chicago—but his life was cut tragically short yesterday. The 38-year-old was found hanged in the building where he planned to open a brewery, and authorities suspect suicide, the Chicago Tribune reports. Cantu achieved incredible success: After working with late chef Charlie Trotter for four years, he became executive chef and then an owner at Moto, a Michelin-starred restaurant; he also opened his own eateries and was, NBC Chicago reports, the founder of a food tech design firm—but in recent days, his professional life had taken a dark turn. An investor in Moto and iNG, a now-closed Cantu restaurant, sued Cantu last month, accusing him of using Moto's account for personal expenses, failing to pay the investor owed profits, and using Moto's profits to keep iNG from failing.
A fellow chef collaborated with Cantu late last month and spoke to him about the lawsuit—which, Eater Chicago noted after it was filed, threatened to force Cantu out of Moto. "He told me, 'What are you gonna do? I'm going to work through it,'" the chef says. "But he definitely wasn't in the happiest spirit. There was a somber note to him for sure." In better days, Cantu was known for mixing cooking with science. He had an aeroponic farm in Moto's basement; the restaurant itself was known for "molecular gastronomy." He was passionate about a berry that turns sour foods sweet and that he dreamed might replace sugar, and he had ambitions to create synthetic meat, vegan eggs, hangover-free beer, and package-free fruit juice. "Problems were everywhere" growing up, Cantu explained in 2012. "I was just taught very early that if I didn't solve problems, I was headed for a very dark path." (Last month saw another tragedy in the food world.)