Born into a family of barbecue restaurateurs and experts in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Rick Bayless may have seemed an unlikely candidate to become the face of Mexican cuisine. And yet, he’s worked tirelessly to remove its longstanding stigma, as merely consisting of various permutations of tortillas, cheese, beans and meat, by opening up a string of highly acclaimed Chicago restaurants (including the James Beard Award-winning Frontera Grill, the 4-star Toplobampo, and the LEED GOLD-certified, fast-casual Xoco) serving elevated yet authentic, wholly reverential regional fare. In fact, in 2012, the Government of Mexico honored Bayless with the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle — the highest decoration bestowed on foreigners whose work has benefitted Mexico and its people.
But Bayless’ life mission extends far beyond spreading the gospel of tamales and mole. A noted philanthropist (he’s received the Humanitarian of the Year award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals), Bayless and his staff established the Frontera Farmer Foundation in 2003, to support small Midwestern farms. Each year, grants are awarded to farmers for capital improvements to their family farms, encouraging greater production and profitability, and the foundation has allotted $1.2 million dollars to 71 farms to date. In addition, Bayless and team launched the Frontera Scholarship in 2007, a full tuition scholarship that sends Mexican-American Chicago Public School students to Kendall College, to study culinary arts.
Since there was simply no way we could bring Taste Talks to Chicago, without somehow involving the King of Mexican cuisine, we’re ecstatic to have the inimitable Bayless on board, both for the All-Star Chef BBQ (he’ll finally get to flex those hereditary smoking and grilling chops!) and a one-on-one Fireside Chat; an intimate discussion about his various passions and successes. You won’t want to miss it.
Taste Talks Food & Drink hits Chicago October 3-5, 2014. See the full schedule and buy tickets here.