You might recognize this Grub Street guest editor from our work as the host/producer of the Chicago Public Radio series Soundbites, which examines how Chicago chefs use sound, everyday, on the job — the electronic blips of their equipment, the chatter of their staff, the sound of food cooking, and, of course, the kind of music played in the restaurant. The second season of the show launches this week on WBEZ, part of the newsmagazine Eight Forty-Eight, hosted by Alison Cuddy. The first Soundbite of the season focuses on the many sound-generating devices at Moto . We’re excited to show you one of the cool things at Moto that couldn’t be adequately covered by radio: the Matrix.
Matrix, like so much else at Moto, is unique; it’s a proprietary system developed by chef Homaro Cantu and his team to help the restaurant run. It starts like any other point-of-sale system: when an order is received from a customer, the server enters the order into the system along with any dietary restrictions. But then things get fun: an automated, Stephen Hawking-esque voice announces the order to the kitchen crew, while simultaneously a color-coded schedule projects itself upon the kitchen wall (as you can see in the picture above). The schedule is critical, considering the many moving parts of a Moto tasting menu, and Matrix helps the kitchen crew ensure that the right courses are ready at the right times for diners expecting the next phase of their ten- (or more) course tasting menu. Moto chef Homaro Cantu devised Matrix to adjust its schedule based on data from a system of video and other sensors, which alert Matrix that a customer has just completed a course … in turn, alerting the kitchen that they should be readying the next one.
Kitchen staff seems to prefer taking orders from Matrix rather than a human expediter because as one staffer told us, “Expediters yell at you. The Matrix talks in a nice, monotone voice, ” a soothing Hal 9000 as opposed to a frenetic Captain Kirk. There’s also the entertainment angle: In many restaurant kitchens, chefs don’t want to have music going on because it interferes with their ability to communicate to their staff. But at Moto, with instructions coming clearly and consistently through Matrix, music is less of a distraction — which, in Cantu’s opinion, makes for better food. He told us that his crew is frequently “joking around, watching Youtube videos, watching movies, television shows, all during service, it’s all fair game. [Even if] we’re booked and we have a wait list of like 30 people … you’re going to see a lot of people clowning around during service. I just don’t believe that an environment that is overtly serious is an environment that I want to work in…I encourage people to have fun, and it shows in the food.”
In an effort to spread the fun around, Cantu mentioned the plan to actually make the Matrix available free-of-charge to single location restaurants (Got more than one location? Pay up, McDonald’s).
You can listen to “Soundbites:Moto” this coming Wednesday, August 18, on Eight-Forty Eight, which runs from 9AM-10AM, and repeats at 8PM-9PM, on 91.5FM. As with all Chicago Public Radio programming, it’s also available for listening via streaming audio.