chef-name: Rick Bayless

Rick Bayless was born in Oklahoma City in 1953 to a set of restaurateurs, caterers and grocers, who understood the craft and importance of good food. He was literally born into the restaurant business, and was raised and worked in his parents Hickory House restaurant. With hundreds of pounds of smoked ribs, beef and ham served every week in the wood paneled dining room, he learned the integrity, practice and satisfaction of regional cooking. Then he veered in another direction, linguistics.

Rick took an undergraduate degree in Spanish language/literature and Latin American culture at the University of Oklahoma, then graduate studies in linguistics at the University of Michigan. In the middle of dissertation research, his path made an unexpected veer back to the professional kitchen, as a cooking instructor, proprietor of a catering business and restaurant consultant. In 1981, he became the head chef at Lopez y Gonzalez, a Cleveland restaurant for which he developed the menu and trained the staff.

His training in Spanish helped him in his grassroots exploration of Mexico’s rich regional cooking, and for four years, he and wife Deann explored, town by town, logging over 35,000 miles. What they learned, they set foot in their book “Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico”, that went on to win the second best place as Best International Cookbook in 1988.

In 1987, they opened Frontera Grill which was named one of the Top 25 Restaurants in Chicago, an award that he has continued to win. In 1988 Chef Rick Bayless was featured as one of Food & Wine’s Ten Best Chefs, in 1990 Esquire Magazine said Frontera was one of the Best New Restaurants, and in 1991, he received an Ivy Award from Restaurants and Institutions. James Beard also named him the Best American Chef of the Midwest that year. And in 1994, Patricia Wells in the International Herald Tribune, chose Frontera Grill as one of the top 3 casual restaurants in the country.

That same year in 1994, Great Chefs came calling and taped two dishes for their Great Chefs-Great Cities series, and one dish for their Great Chefs of America series, also on the Discovery Channel. Great Chefs came back again in the early 2000s to tape several more grilled dishes for the Great Chefs/Weber Grill PBS special, “Grill Out Chicago”.

Rick has gone on to be featured in WTTW’s PBS series “Cooking Mexican” and “Mexico-One Plate at a Time”. WTTW was a partner with Great Chefs Television in the Great Chefs of Chicago series back in 1984. Rick has also gone on to open other restaurants (Topolobampo, Zinfandel, Xoco, Tortas Frontera and Frontera Frescos), as well as write other books (8), and the awards keep piling up, including the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest decoration bestowed on foreigners whose work has benefitted Mexico and its people. He and his wife have also won many humanitarian awards through their Frontera Farmer Foundation.