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Rick Bayless – from Oaxaca to the Windy City

Award-winning chef-restaurateur, cookbook author, and television personality Rick Bayless has done more than any other culinary figure to introduce Americans to authentic Mexican cooking and to change the image of Mexican food in America.

Rick Bayless interview I was first introduced to the work of Rick Bayless when we were living in the USA. He is an exceptional broadcaster with the same passion and conviction as, say, David Attenborough – only different subject matter! He probably has the same popularity profile as Rick Stein in the UK. Mexico – One Plate at a Time was the TV series that had me enthralled. Rick presented programmes that were a combination of travel guide and cooking lesson. He has also presented programmes with his daughter Lanie who is now 17 years old. She is studying Musical Theatre but she has worked at the restaurant in the pastry department.

Rick is the fourth generation of an Oklahoma family of restaurateurs and grocers. His mum and dad had a BBQ restaurant. It was in Oklahoma that he ate “Tex Mex” food which he loved. At that time this is what they, and most everyone else, thought Mexican food was. At 14 he planned a trip to Mexico City with his family, and this excited his interest still further.

From 1980 to 1986, Rick lived in Mexico with his wife, Deann. “It started with that trip”, he said. “It was like going home. Who can explain love?” They logged 35,000 miles travelling through Mexico researching their first cookbook: Regional Cooking From The Heart of Mexico (William Morrow, 1987).

In 1987, Rick opened the now famous Frontera Grill in Chicago, which specialises in contemporary regional Mexican cooking. Rick opened the elegant Topolobampo in 1989. Adjacent to Frontera Grill, Topolobampo is one of America's few fine-dining Mexican restaurants. They have both received glowing reviews from such publications as Gourmet, Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, Zagat's, The Wine Spectator, USA Today, and The Chicago Tribune. Topolobampo has been nominated twice by the James Beard Foundation as one of the most outstanding restaurants in the USA.

He is the founder of the Frontera Farmer Foundation. Established in 2003, it’s an organisation that supports small local farmers. It is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion of small, sustainable farms serving the Chicago area by providing them with capital development grants.

Rick points out that he didn't get into organic food because of some "new-agey, life changing, near-death experience or anything like that. I'm an entrepreneur first. I chose organic produce because it tastes better and I'm in business to make a business work," Rick admitted.

His use of local produce is good business sense. “It's just good practice to take care of the supplier of the food you need to make your business better”. His restaurant spends half a million dollars on local fresh produce each year.

"I admit the locale is primary to us at our restaurant. Then comes organic. And now we are supporting local farmers in making the transition from conventional to organic. It just tastes better. Great food, like all art, enhances and reflects a community’s vitality, growth and solidarity. Yet history bears witness that great cuisines spring only from healthy local agriculture."

Frontera Foods, Rick’s food products line, went on sale at Frontera Fresco, a food kiosk in the historic Marshall Fields building (now Macy’s Chicago) in 2005. There are salsas, chips, and grilling rubs all inspired by decades of experience of the best Mexican cooking.

I asked Rick if he had plans for any other food outlets. “We are working on opening a quick-serve place on the corner next to Topolobampo...it will be open next year. Ground chocolate and fresh churros, tortas, etc.” Sounds like my cup of tea!

I was going to tell you about the awards but Rick has so many! He started his collection in 1988 with the Food & Wine Magazine which selected Rick as "Best New Chef of the Year," and in 1991 he won a James Beard Award for "Best American Chef: Midwest." And that was just the start!

Rick is a restaurant consultant, teaches authentic Mexican cooking throughout the United States (he is a visiting staff member at the Culinary Institute of America), and leads cooking and cultural tours to Mexico.

I asked if he had another book on the horizon. “There’s a new book out next year...all about entertaining...fiestas!”

I am sorry that most Europeans will not have had the chance to see Rick in action ....so buy his books!

Books by Rick Bayless....so far!

Mexican Everyday
Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen
Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico
Rick & Lanie's Excellent Kitchen Adventures: Chef-Dad, Teenage Daughter, Recipes, and Stories
Authentic Mexican
Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico


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