Chefs on the Grill with Michael Nagrant - Rick Bayless

For March, Nagrant chats with Rick Bayless, the king of regional Mexican throughout the United States, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Frontera Grill (445 N. Clark St.; 312-661-1434).

 

Rick Bayless


 

PODCAST: To hear more from Nagrant’s conversation with Rick Bayless click the Podcast above. (01.04:12)


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MN: Regional Mexican was unheard of in Chicago when you opened Frontera. Was there pressure?
RB: I had invested my mother-in-law’s and my mother’s retirement fund-so talk about pressure. The first customer that came in looked at the menu, came over to me, and said, “This is not Mexican food. You are going to fail.”

MN: When did things start to turn around?
RB: Within a few days we started getting some positive feedback, and within six weeks we had hit our financial goal. Within a year, we were beyond anything that I had set up in my projections.

MN: Why have you focused on Mexico?
RB: When I took that first trip I was enthralled with the vitality of the culture. There’s this sense of generosity, and it’s not like the uptight northern European cultures. There’s a spontaneity that has always enthralled me.

MN: Do Americans still look at Mexico as one homogenous culture?
RB:
More people are wandering off the path from the beach communities and getting to know more of Mexico. Most of the beach communities that Americans go to don’t represent Mexico; in fact, they’re pandering to the American appetite.

MN: What are your thoughts on “Nuevo Latino” cuisine?
RB: The whole idea is a disservice to the cultures. It’s like saying that you can skim the top of all Latino cultures, and then make a mishmash out of it. I don’t think all those diverse cultures can be subsumed under one umbrella.

MN: Do you have an advantage, not being from Mexico?
RB: I don’t have a Mexican grandma, so I don’t have to be given to her way of doing it. Some people complain that I’m doing all this stuff and yet I’m not Mexican-but there’s nobody coming out of Mexico and doing it.

 

Photograph: Brendan Lekan

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