What was your motivation to begin cooking?
You might say I was born to cook—I grew up in my family’s barbecue restaurant, so cooking, food and restaurants have always been in my blood. I studied linguistics very seriously, but food and cooking had a stronger grip on me, so I gave in.
Why did you gravitate towards Mexican cuisine?
I fell in love with Mexico the first time I visited, when I was a kid. Everything about it—the colors, the music, the people, the food—infatuated me, and I immediately wanted to experience and learn more about the country, the people and the cuisine. That curiosity has never left me. of any Mexican dish.
Which one did you find the most challenging to master?
All of them, really. To master something you have to cook it again and again, and you really have to pay attention, and listen to the food. The food will start talking to you, telling you when to take it off the heat, or when to flip it—when you can start hearing interview Rick Bayless interview 36 Food Mexico and Me Special edition 2015 www.mexico.is those things, you’re on your way to mastering. But it takes a long time. [sociallocker id=5762]
Tell us a little about Frontera Grill and your other restaurants
Frontera was the first restaurant we opened, and I’m super proud of it because we continue to challenge ourselves and evolve it, to make it better. Topolo came a few years later— it’s our fine-dining spot, and there, too, we only get more ambitious year after year. Xoco, our newest restaurant (it’s a little over four years old) is our take on Mexican street food: tortas, caldos, churros and chocolate. We have another location of Xoco now that just opened a few months ago.
Any chance you’ll open a restaurant in Mexico?
Never say never, but probably not—I’ve got my hands full here! I know what my next few restaurant projects are, and they’re in Chicago.
In 2012 the Mexican government awarded you the ‘Order of the Aztec Eagle’ — how did this make you feel to have the country that has inspired your cooking acknowledge your work?
It was absolutely thrilling. I was without words. I’m still without words—it was such a beautiful honor.
How do you think Mexicans view your cuisine?
Well, Mexico’s a big country, so I think there’s probably a range of opinions! But what I hear most of the time is an appreciation for representing Mexican food and culture in an authentic, revering way.
Do you think winning Top Chef Masters has changed the opinion of what Americans think of Mexican food?
I hope so. For so long, Americans believed that in order for food to be “fine dining “or “elevated,” it had to come from a European tradition— France, mostly. Well, on Top Chef Masters, Mexican Food won out over Italian and French Food. I hope that signaled to the public that Mexican Food is every bit as nuanced, beautiful, bold and delicious as the French one.
With so much happening — TV programs, 8 restaurants, cookbooks and even lending a hand to a stage production — when do you find time to enjoy a quiet meal with your wife Deann?
Every Sunday night!
When you do eat together, is it always Mexican food?
No, it’s a big range. I love cooking at home and I love trying out new cookbooks—Chinese, Thai, American barbecue, you name it.
You and your wife Deann have lived in Mexico and continue to visit — what is your favorite part of the country and why?
There’s a special place in my heart for Oaxaca City. My family and I spend Christmas there every year, so I have decades of memories of being there, celebrating the holidays. Tell us a little about ‘Frontera Farmer Foundation’ and why you started it The Farmer Foundation awards grants to small, Midwestern farmers who use sustainable practices. The farmers come to us with a specific project— they need a new tractor, or they want to build a hoop house so they can grow later into the season—and we give them the money to execute it. For years we’d been working with these farmers, and occasionally we’d give out loans… finally, we decided to formalize the process, and that’s how the foundation began.
What do you consider the most essential ingredient and most essential tool for you as a chef?
Tool—that’s easy: a sharp chef’s knife. Ingredient—that’s a little harder. Salt is pretty essential. If you don’t have that, you don’t have flavor.
What has been the highlight of your culinary career?
Cooking at the White House for President Obama was pretty spectacular. But even more spectacular is coming to my restaurants every day and working with my talented team, all of whom I am so proud of, and so indebted to.
Looking ahead, what does Rick Bayless hope to accomplish next?
I have a couple restaurant projects that I’m really excited about. These restaurants will be unlike anything I’ve done in the past. And I’m finishing one book now, which means I can get started on the next one—it’s going to be a big one…
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be? An actor? A writer?
But I’m already those things, too. Maybe I’d be a farmer. Or maybe I’d just relax. [/sociallocker]