Rick Bayless

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“Bring more than just food to the table.”

Rick Bayless. The man needs no introduction. With just those two words, you’re probably thinking about the beloved tortas at XOCO (Mexican slang for ‘little sister’), his out-of-this-world Mexican fare at Topolobampo, some salsa of his you picked up at the grocery store, maybe a recipe you recently tried from one of his many cookbooks or the last time you turned on TV and caught him on PBS’s One Plate at a Time. He’s a talented chef, brilliant businessman and culinary legend – and that’s an understatement.

How did you get into the food business? I grew up in a family of grocers, then around a barbecue restaurant and catering business. I thought I’d go to school and never be in a restaurant again…boy was I wrong. All I could think about when I was at school was food and what I was going to eat next. I guess it’s in my blood.

In three words, how did you take a talent and passion for cooking and turn it into a hugely successful career? Research, love and fun.

What are some of your favorite menu items at your restaurants? I don’t do favorites, but I love how our menu has evolved. Right now in Frontera we have these cool sections like ‘live fire’ and ‘old school Frontera.’

Your business is multi-faceted – street-side restaurants, packaged foods, television appearances, non-traditional venues, cookbooks. Is there one area you focus on expanding more than others? I’ve never had a five-year plan. I don’t look at projects like that. I’m always about what’s right now. I’m slow and take my time to really get something. If it works to expand, that’s what we’ll do. But not before we look at it from angles of all sides: Are we staffed to do this? Is this the right time? Et cetera.

Any more cookbooks on the horizon? Always! I think I have three more in process right now.

What do you think the next food trend will be? When I interviewed Curtis Duffy, he thought refined Mexican and cited a dinner he had a Topolobampo as one of the best meals of his life. The next food trend is always strange to answer. It’s usually an evolution of something – like ethnic food becoming so mainstream.

Describe some memorable moments. There was this magical moment in China I remember with my wife in our hotel room with beautiful food and a beautiful room. I also have a moment in my memory of one of our 4th of July trips with our staff – we were all on a boat, there was live music – it was truly wonderful.

Best thing about Chicago? The neighborhoods.

Greatest regret? I don’t do that – I think I’m where I need to be.

Finish these sentences…

Best piece of advice I’ve received was…
…bring more than just food to the table.

Last meal I ate was…
…something in a tortilla.

What I cook most at home is…
…simple – stuff from the garden or grill.

My guilty pleasures are…
…really good doughnuts.

My biggest kitchen disaster was…
…a rumor about my five alarm kitchen fire. It was a small fire and the neighbors called the fire department!

My favorite travel destination is…
Mexico, Thailand, China…I love to travel!

My greatest extravagance is…
…my home garden in Bucktown.

The greatest loves of my life are…
…my daughter, wife and grandmother.

My greatest achievement is…
…winning the James Beard Humanitarian of the Year award. And winning best restaurant with our whole team there was so memorable.

My idea of perfect happiness is…
…working, writing and good food.

My greatest fear is…
…bad food.

If I could change one thing about myself…
…I’d have the ability to be in more than one place at one time – is that a change?

The superpower I wish I had is…
…probably the two places at once thing.

My most marked characteristic is…
…my glasses

In my next life I’ll be…
…a professional dancer – that would be fun to work on Dancing with the Stars

Sarah Levy

About Sarah Levy

Sarah Levy delighted millions as the owner and proprietor of Sarah's Pastries & Candies, one of Chicago's most popular confectionaries since its opening in 2004. A graduate of Northwestern University and the French Pastry School, Ms. Levy is the author of Sweetness: Delicious Baked Treats for Every Occasion and the winner of the Food Network Challenge. She’s been featured in USA TodayBetter Homes and Gardens and the Chicago Tribune, among many others. Ms. Levy's now doing business as S. Levy Foods, and is a leader in the airport food concession business.