Chef prints edible menu

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IT IS an idea that could have come straight out of Roald Dahl's famous children's story Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.

A cordon-bleu chef has modified an inkjet printer to create edible paper dishes that can taste of anything from birthday cake to sushi.

Stepping into the shoes of Willy Wonka is Homaru Cantu, head chef at the Moto restaurant in Chicago.

In Dahl's surreal tale, the mysterious Mr Wonka produces a chewing gum that tastes like a three-course meal. Likewise, Cantu's printer can produce a variety of edible surprises. The printer's cartridges are loaded with fruit and vegetable concoctions instead of ink, and its "paper" is made of sheets of soybean and potato starch.

Cantu, an advocate of the hi-tech kitchen, uses the machine to print tasty versions of images downloaded from the internet. When the artwork rolls out, he dips it in a powder made of soy sauce, sugar, vegetables or dehydrated sour cream, and then freezes or bakes the sheets. He prints his menus the same way - so diners can enjoy them as an hors d'oeuvre or swirl pieces of them into their soup.

Cantu told New Scientist magazine: "You can make an inkjet printer do just about anything." But, like Willy Wonka, he is keeping his methods secret. Until he has filed patents, he is refusing to divulge how he modified the printer heads to write in vegetable juice, or recipes for his colourful "inks".

"All he will reveal is carrots, tomatoes and purple potatoes are involved in his concoctions," said the New Scientist. Other innovations Cantu plans to introduce include using a laser to cook steak and bake bread.

He hopes to take the printer concept out of the kitchen and into the media by publishing edible ads.

"Just imagine going through a magazine and looking at an ad for pizza," he said. "You wonder what it tastes like, so you rip a page out and eat it."