Last night I watched an interview with chef Rick Bayless, in connection with Monday’s big news that his Frontera Grill won the James Beard Award for Best Restaurant in the United States. I’ve always been a fan of Bayless, and in this interview I learned that his Frontera Farmer Foundation awards capital development grants to small sustainable farms serving the Chicago area. Cool. Another reason to like him.
I’ve been following his career for years. In the early ‘90s, I met a friend of Rick Bayless’ who took me to his (then) new restaurant Topolobampo. In the late ‘90s, I volunteered for a few years at an organic garden. The person who ran it went on to become, incredibly, Rick Bayless’ personal gardener. I once saw her on his PBS television show, Mexico—One Plate at a Time. Many an evening our family sat drooling over his recipes featured on what was, at the time, our daughters’ favorite show.
“Look girls, you can see her in the background,” I shouted to my girls, pointing out my friend.
“I can’t believe she goes to Rick Bayless’ dinner parties,” I said to my husband, pointing out my jealousy.
A couple of years ago I wrote an essay for Chicago Parent, in which I talked about feeding my children. In it, I mentioned the significance of Rick Bayless to my daughters developing taste buds. Yet despite all these connections, I’ve never met the man.
But my daughters have.
Two years ago, after seeing a performance of Slava’s Snowshow at the Chicago Theater, my sister and I and our four daughters headed over to Frontera Grill for dinner. The girls immediately recognized the famous chef, and the four cousins ran up and asked for his autograph.
Today I sit here thinking how extraordinary it is that these 11- and 12-year-olds have not only eaten in the best restaurant in the U.S., but that they know so much about the chef behind its success.
When I was their age, I was impressed that a microwave could thaw a donut in 30 seconds!