Why is Rick Bayless the expert on Mexican cuisine when he isn't even Mexican?

I've noticed Rick Bayless everywhere lately on television and in magazines. He's considered the leading chef of Mexican cuisine in Chicago and probably the nation and the chef at Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago.

I tried each of his restaurants once. And the food was great, but I never went back.

rick-bayless-on-top-chef-masters.jpg

Something just bugged me that a white guy was gaining so much fame for his Mexican cuisine. I'm sure his love of Mexico is genuine and he does good charity work. I'm not saying he's a bad guy, and he is a great chef. But why does the media make him the spokesman for Mexican food in the United States?

You can accuse me of being too politically correct. But how would the French feel if their premier chef celebrated by the media in France wasn't French at all?

I think it would annoy  them too.

Bayless was recently on one of my favorite shows, Top Chef Masters, and he won his cook off by making tongue tacos with a green sauce. Now I kinda think it was an easy win since the challenge was to use icky pig and cow parts to make street food.  The chefs had to work with tongue, intestines, heart or pig ears. Three of the four tried to make Mexican dishes, including the French chef Ludo Lefebvre, who tried making pig ear quesadillas. Eww!
It was a no brainer that Bayless would make tacos. Of course he'd win.

He was featured in an issue of Time Out Chicago last summer. The reporter
followed Bayless around Chicago as he stopped in taquerías in Chicago's
Pilsen neighborhood.

The story had a weird tone kinda like watch the white guy hang out in
the barrio and judge whether the food measures up to real Mexican food.

My main point is there also has to be a way to celebrate some of the
great Mexican and Latino chefs here in the city of Chicago.

If we're honest we know that there are Mexican men and women working in
just about every restaurant kitchen in Chicago no matter what the
cuisine. But they aren't the actual chefs.

I'm going to list a few of the great Mexican-run restaurants and Latino
chefs in the Chicago area that I've tried and I think should get more
attention. Please send me your recommendations too.

Xni-Pec, 5135 W. 25th St., Cicero. 708-652-8680.
You have to go out to the suburb of Cicero but it's worth the drive.
This restaurant specializes in cuisines from the Yucatan part of Mexico
and is owned by Antonio and Maria Contreras from Cozumel, Mexico. Start
with the vaporcitos, a Yucatan-style chicken tamale wrapped in a banana
leaf and the empanadas made of ground beef, corn and mushroom or
potatoes.  The platillo de cochinita is a delicious meat pork marinated
in achiote and onion, and camaron al ajillo, is their mother's recipe
for shrimp marinated in two different chiles, garlic and herbs. They
have a bell at the door, and if you like the food you ring it on the way
out.

May Street Café, 1146 W. Cermak Ave., Chicago. 312-421-4442. Only open for dinner.
This place is located on an almost deserted strip of Cermak in Pilsen.
The executive chef is Mario Santiago and the partner chef is Guadalupe
Aguilar. This is more Nuevo Latino gourmet seasonal food with Mexican,
Puerto Rican and Cuban influences. Worth trying are the brie and pear
quesadillas and salmon with lemon butter and chipotle-tequila cream
sauce. One time I was there I had a paella-inspired special served in
half of a pineapple.

Carnicería Guanajuato, 1436 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago. 773-772-5266.
This place is really a grocery store but like many it has a counter
where they sell what I call Vitamin T - tacos and tortas. I love the
tortas here especially the chicken, which is slow cooked in a tomato
sauce, and the fluffy white bolillo bread is doused in cream, avocado
and refried beans. They also have good burritos and tacos de carnitas.

Comments

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  • this is a great question... somewhere, I am pretty sure it was in Chi Tribune, I read a profile with Rick Bayless, where he talked about his investment of time and energy in building relationships with journalists, coming up with soundbites, etc. (his brother Skip is a pretty well known sports reporter... perhaps not totally coincidentally).

  • In reply to chigordon:

    I think there's a difference between excelling at a particular type of regional Mexican cooking or, for that matter, nouvelle Mexican cuisine vs. being knowledgeable about all forms of Mexican cooking and communicating that knowledge through eight cookbooks and a PBS series. Bayless has a legitimate claim to his expertise, but it's the expertise of a teacher and writer. I don't think a competent food writer would consider him the only game in town when it comes to Mexican cooking. At least I hope not.

  • In reply to chigordon:

    Julia Child was not French, and she managed to be the "French Chef" in the U.S. Dianna Kennedy broke ground with her books about "real" Mexican food in the late 70s. She was not Mexican either. I think Rick and Diana have found a way to document Mexican food and its preparation from an outsider point of view. This allows them to focus on things we, Mexicans might not see because we are used to them. In the end, that very way of observing things makes them insiders. They then articulate and describe the food as experts. In Diana's case, she didn't have a TV show and a restaurant, and she was much more of a purist than Rick. Rick has a big PR and business machine to support him. He seems to be a good business man. He found a niche and took it! The media might like him, but how many Mexican people do you see in his restaurants besides the service personnel? I think the food at Frontera and Topolobambo is really good, but it's very stylized and "adapted" for the American taste.

  • In reply to Quetilla:

    Actually, the reason Rick Bayless is considered the expert on Mexican cuisine in the U.S. is because he DOESN'T stylize or adapt the food to American tastes. He presents it as is, whether the traditional recipes or the nouvelle Mexican cuisine. I can tell you this because I was born and raised in Mexico and when a few years ago I decided it was time for me to learn how to cook Mexican food I turned to his books. Initially it was because Rick offered alternatives to ingredients that are hard to find. But my conversion was complete after I made my first dish from his recipes. I kid you not when I say that I literally cried after my first bite. It just tasted like home. For the first time in many years living in Chicago and going to every Mexican restaurant in Pilsen and Little Village these were the first truly authentic enchiladas I'd had. I was sold.

    I now make all of the more complex Mexican dishes from tamales to mole, all from his recipes, and each time the result has been the same. I'm also a huge fan of both Frontera and Topolobampo. One of my best friends from Mexico now lives in Toronto. Every year she comes to visit and the first thing she wants to do is go to Frontera.

    The reason you don't see many Mexicans in Frontera has nothing to do with Bayless being a gringo or not being authentic enough. It has to do with the price. Not many Mexicans in Chicago can afford Frontera/Topolo prices. But take it from this Mexican, Rick Bayless is as authentic as it gets. And I'm proud to have him represent Mexico's cuisine.

  • In reply to mgallardo:

    mgallardo thank you for your post concerning Rick Bayless. He has a great deal of respect for the Mexican people and their traditions, it shows in all that he does. I am a good judge of charater and he is genuine in his love of Mexico.

    As for this reviewer, I don't know what your gripe is with Rick Bayless, it shows in your review of him, and its totally unfair. He's a warm loving person that promotes Mexico as a place to visit, to enjoy the tradiditons, and repect the people.

    As for not going back to his resturants, maybe you can't afford to??

    Rick Bayless does gives back, charity and green living, and respect of mother nature with organic gardening. He is a family man, which also gives him more credit with me.

    I think that your report on Rick should have been filed in the round file cabinet instead of here.

  • In reply to mgallardo:

    I concur with mgallardo. Puuente's criticism should have focused on whether Bayles' food is authentic Mexican or bad Mexican, not how Mexican Bayless is himself. I think the chef is doing his part to change Mexican stereotypes perpetuated by American cartoons, comercials and the fast food industry.

  • In reply to mgallardo:

    Whoever wrote this article is talking out of their ass! Rick Bayless actually cared enough to learn the cuisine that he went to live in New Mexico for 10 yrs. He speaks fluent spanish and makes all his dishes from scratch, He is more Mexican than anyone else who claims to have a Mexican resturaunt.

  • In reply to mgallardo:

    And he here Legally

  • In reply to mgallardo:

    Mexicans consider King Taco real mexican...please!!!

  • In reply to Quetilla:

    There are some people who have a natural love and affinity for a culture that on the surface, is not thier own. Rick has deep love and respect for everything Mexico. He has a talent for taking cultural fare and making it in a way that transcends most (if not all) other Mexican restaurants. You should be pointing out that thanks to Rick, people from every culture LOVE Mexican food.

  • In reply to Quetilla:

    Why is Jane Goodall the expert on Gorillas if she isn't even a gorilla?

  • In reply to Chicagogurl01:

    And there it is.

  • In reply to Chicagogurl01:

    The French analogy is absurd because Mr. Bayless is not being hailed in Mexico as Mexico's top chef. Any half-awake 8th grader could see through that silly comparison. And Ms. Puente is a journalist? Ouch.

    Ms. Puente writes:
    My main point is there also has to be a way to celebrate some of the great Mexican and Latino chefs here in the city of Chicago.
    That's the main point? First, a declaration of the main point isn't necessary if an article is written effectively. Second, the vast majority of Ms. Puente's article does not even remotely support her main point. At all. (And it happens to be a point with which I agree - Mexican and Latino chefs should get more publicity in Chicago.)

    But Mr. Bayless's incredible marketing/media savvy, deep pockets, long history of training top chefs, and, of course, his outstanding food, are obvious enough reasons for his mainstream media coverage.

    It's unfortunate that Ms. Puente can so thoroughly and painfully mangle and obfuscate the otherwise laudable goal of bringing attention to more of Chicago's top Mexican and Latino chefs.

    My top 3 suggestions:
    Sol de Mexico on Cicero
    La Oaxaquena on Milwaukee
    Tierra Caliente on Archer

  • In reply to Chicagogurl01:

    Leave a comment...I think this blog and this topic brings the opportunity for people to discuss issues that are so close to their hearts--race, for example. It is great to see the real face of Americans insulting, name-calling, showing their anger and disappointment. Allowing themselves to be able to say what they think instead of showing that eternal happy face and attitude. I think that a medium that allows people to say what they think when they can't be seen is precious because it allows them to show their real face. Why aren't you like this when you are in person and discuss vehemently these issues? Life is not pretty all the time and it would be good to show it publicly instead of just saying everyday that everything is great. I can see that it's not "great" and these conversations prove it. A suggestion: Show some "cojones" in your everyday life, and don't ask for tacos with lettuce (unless you get them at Taco Bell.)

  • In reply to Yatuve:

    Yatuve: I agree with your point about people being way more bold behind the veil of anonymity. If we could be somewhere in the middle--open and honest, but civil--that would be awesome.

    And dang it, now I want tacos. Pastor, from the place around the corner from the Green Mill.

  • In reply to JenniSpinner:

    Spinner: I can agree to disagree with people. The issue here is all the anger, frustration and hatred behind people's comments. In this PC environment we have grown to be so uptight and mentally constipated.

  • In reply to Yatuve:

    I guess we all need the ACTIVIA challenge! lol

  • In reply to Yatuve:

    "But how would the French feel if their premier chef celebrated by the media in France wasn't French at all?"

    How about Mexico. How did Mexicans take to a British woman traveling the country, researching the culture, living in Mexico and writing cookbooks. What did they do when she garnered so much international praise for her books. Why they bestowed the "Order of the Aztec Eagle" on her. See Diana Kennedy.

    No seas huevona, you call yourself a Journalist well act like one. Do some research. Your premises are ignorant. One of you points just blew out the door with the above. As to the others, Rick Bayless didn't just drop on the scene last year or with Top Chef Masters, he's been living and breathing Mexican Cultura since he was a teen. Lived in Mexico for 6 years. Teaching gabachos and even this mexicano about regional mexican cuisine on his PBS show for 9 years. He is the preeminent authority on comida regional de nuestra tierra in the United States and this Mexican for one is glad that somebody's doing it. It's not Aaron Sanchez, Alex Garcia or Douglas Rodgriguez. All great chefs but Rick has a PHd candidate's background in our cultura (linguistics & anthropology) and is able to convey that to anyone how wants to watch, listen and eat. Do some research before you let wondering thoughts turn you into a racist.

    BTW, agree with Tortas, who calls themselves chicano anymore?

  • In reply to TacoJimenez:

    The "huevona" name-calling is not necessary.

  • In reply to TacoJimenez:

    Yatuve, unlike Ms. Puente I will swallow my Mexican Pride not make any excuses and apologize for calling her a "huevona".

    Ms. Puente please accept my heartfelt apology in calling you a lazy journalist.

  • In reply to TacoJimenez:

    I am just catching up on this nonsense controversy, and am please to see that Rick Bayless, whom I admire as an artist and a human being, doesn

  • In reply to TacoJimenez:

    here's the thing ...Rick Bayless did what so many people do in this world, they decided to do one thing and do it well. How many people from other lands come here and their children excel at things that some Americans don't? How many children that aren't "Caucasian" have won spelling bees? know what I mean Vern! I grew up speaking Spanish only until I was 5 and in college I minored in English and I have my own blue ribbon for my Chiles Rellenos. And if you want to excel at cooking Mexican food, and you live in America by all means cook your heart out ....and invite me to dinner : )

  • In reply to TacoJimenez:

    Rick Bayless won the Top Chef Master Competition. Rick Bayless proved that Mexican Cuisine is as sophisticated as French or Italian Cuisine. That is the point. Bayless gives honor to the Mexican cuisine. As a Mexican American who has lived in Chiapas and Chicago, i can say that old boy knows something about Mexican cuisine. He studies it with a passion. Look at the big picture. Latino chefs excel at not only Mexican food but also many cuisines. I lived an hour from Palenque and found that the Europeans knew more about the Mexican history than the natives. I had to appreciate that. The point is that Latino chefs will be prominent in the near future and beyond. Mexican Cuisine is hard to grasp since it so diverse and rich. Give thanks to Rick and big salute to the Latino chefs are doing great work in Chicago and beyond. Rick Bayless is NOT the last word on Mexican Cuisine but he opens the playing field to those who love Mexican cuisine!

  • In reply to TacoJimenez:

    I think your question is very narrow-minded. Even borderline racist. In this day and age of diversity and multi-culturalism, being stuck in a stereotypical mindset is very regrettable. It's like asking, why is Obama president in a predominantly white country, when he is not even white? Or, why is Sonia Sotomayor chosen as justice of the Supreme Court? Or, why is Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra when he is Japanese?

  • In reply to tedregencia:

    Obama is half-white, isn't he?

  • In reply to TacoJimenez:

    The writer of this article is a racist. The real question is why does she hate white people. Perhaps she could blog about that.

  • In reply to Yatuve:

    I'd like to be the upteenth person to comment on this. Wonderful food is wonderful food regardless of the color of the person who made it. Period.

    I left a PhD program in Anthropology a few years back and know how one feels about the culture he or she studies. It's love, plain and simple. Rick get to share this love with everyone who watches his PBS series, reads one of his cookbooks, or dines in one of his restaurants.

  • In reply to Yatuve:

    You ask "how would the French feel if their premier chef celebrated by the media in France wasn't French at all?"

    I can't speak for the French, but by the far the most famous and arguably best Swedish chef is Marcus Samuelsson, chef of Aquavit in New York. He's a black Ethiopian, but I've never heard any of my Swedish family complain about that - they're happy to have a chef make such masterful Swedish food, no matter what his background is.

    Have some class, and admit when you've made an error in judgement. Everyone makes mistakes - smart people know when to admit it.

  • In reply to eric44:

    Now, now-let's be accurate, Eric. The most famous Swedish chef is a Muppet.

  • In reply to eric44:

    Just found this. Borderline, to blatant racism here. I'll just pretend I did not see it and assume whatever consequences have already fallen on Teresa's journalistic practice.

    Regardless, but Rick's cooking frankly, is better than most of the mexican cuisine found in Chicago. All though there is a lot of Mexican's living in Chicago, I would not consider it a Mexican food mecca in the U.S. There are lots of very average or not even good taquerias and pupusarias here. If you want more of the authentic mexican in the U.S., you probably need to go to California or Texas. There are major benefits when the heritage there is much longer than in Chicago, as well as right next to the border. As somebody who travels back and forth from California to Chicago often.... I would say, Bayless food... pretty accurate, good meal, though expensive. Most of the mexican in Chicago, not so good. There are really only a handful of good mexican restaurants in Chicago, most of the others would be extremely average if they were to be dropped in San Diego or Los Angeles for example, many of plain unacceptable quality. If you do not think this, you really need to get out more. Rick's restaurant happen to be one of the good ones and obviously the guy is good with the press, so it isn't really a surprise why in a sea of unfresh tortillas catered to midwestern tastes or people far removed from Mexico and the vegetation there, that Bayless spots would be right up there.

  • In reply to Yatuve:

    Teresa, I disagree with you, wholeheartedly. I have never met the man, but from everything I've read and seen of Rick Bayless, he seems to be well educated, well spoken, considerate of others, passionate about Mexico and its people, giving back to his community and is a man of grace and maturity, not to mention a hell of a cook (I've been to Frontera & Topolobompo). You seem to have a problem with him representing Mexican food because of his being on Top Chef. So, I propose a challenge. Rick Bayless vs. any Mexican born chef in Chicago in a Top Chef cook-off of their own. A blind taste test pitting Bayless against any and all comers. You and Phil Vettel can do the judging, and let the best man/woman win!

  • In reply to Yatuve:

    Chicano = lame 70s term.

  • In reply to Yatuve:

    Seriously lame title for a blog. Don Tortas feels relics of some brown pride era need to go away. I have Cheech Marin on the naco direct line and he agreed.

    Btw are we still holding out for Aztlan?

    jaja

    Saludos desde mi oficina comiendo uvas.

  • In reply to Chicagogurl01:

    This just sounds like sour grapes to me that a Mexican chef didn't get there first in this country. Well, one didn't. So deal with it instead of tearing down someone because of their fully earned success. Yes, you are, indeed, too "politically correct."

    And before you flame out at a "white guy" posting this comment, don't be fooled by my last name. I am as Hispanic as you are (1/2 Spanish and 1/2 Peurto Rican).

  • In reply to Chicagogurl01:

    Wow. Race AND Food? Teresa, you have hit the comment section sweet spot! First off, I just want to say that I have never dined at any of Rick's restaurants, but I occasionally watch his show on PBS and it's obvious that the man's knowledge and respect of Mexican cuisine is unprecedented. I don't think it's fair to call Teresa a racist for calling Rick a white guy (he is white after all) or for asking why a Mexican isn't considered the authority on Mexican cuisine. It would be nice to have more visible Latino and African-American chefs, especially for young Latino and Black males and females. I know they're out there, but unless you read food blogs, magazines, etc. you won't hear about them as much as Bayless. To try and end on a positive note, it's great that Bayless can have his accolades as an the expert on Mexican cuisine, Teresa can have her opinion, you can all lash out at her for sharing it and I, a Black woman, can practice yoga, every day!

  • In reply to Chicagogurl01:

    Smart comment Maya. The pc environment has created a lot of anger... but at least we have the blogs where people show their real colors... in person they usually avoid anything that can cause controversy or disagreement. That makes life really boring.

  • In reply to Chicagogurl01:

    She's the chimpanzee lady. Dian Fossey's the Gorillas in the Mist lady.

  • In reply to Quetilla:

    Might I suggest you share this article with your journalism students as an example of how not to write. While your purpose was to shine a light on some Latino chefs in the area, your attempt was feeble, racist and poorly executed.

  • In reply to chigordon:

    This is a weird post, actually. I'd bet Rick spends more time in Mexico than many of the Mexican chefs here in town. If you watch his shows or read his books, he's there quite a lot.

    Also, the analogy that a non-French chef was the master of French cooking in France and how would that be perceived is a little off. French cuisine is the national cuisine of France. Mexican food is no the national cuisine of America.

    Now, if Rick was the celebrated Mexican chef and actually lived and worked in Mexico, now that would be weird.

    I just don't see the issue. It's like saying if I became the best non-Hispanic Spanish speaker in Chicago, it'd be weird if I talked/wrote/taught the language. Why?

    Or, is it just because he's white?

  • In reply to chigordon:

    The first name that comes out when I think of the best Mexican chef is Rick Bayless. He has a passion for Mexican food, but with a fancy twist to it. He doesn't make your average carne asada torta for $4 bucks, but his $7 version is still really good and pricy, which I don't like. But I do agree that more Latino chefs should get some exposure.

  • In reply to chigordon:

    Re 'He isn't even Mexican':

    But you tout a restaurant with two chefs creating dishes with "Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban influences" and a "paella-inspired special." Are these two chefs Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and fresh out of Valencia?

    Shame on you, Teresa. And shame on the Tribune for providing a platform for this racist/ethnist drivel.

  • In reply to AlanSolomon:

    Alan,
    Perhaps it's OK for a Puerto Rican to be an expert in Mexican cooking because he/she is 'Latino'...even though their culinary perspectives are far far apart from one another.
    And, I suppose, using this definition it is perfectly OK if a Norwegian or German or Canadian became the national expert in American cuisine...because after all they're all 'anglo'.

    I am in agreement with you, Mr. Solomon...this is nothing short of racist.

  • In reply to chigordon:

    Unbelievable. Can you image the outrage if someone suggested a Mexican couldn't be considered an expert in French food? It should also be pointed out that self-promotion is probably the number one requirement for a chef to become a star. Does anyone really think Bayless, Puck, etc., are the best chefs...they are the best promoters.

  • In reply to chigordon:

    I'm sticking to the recommendation end of this post:

    Re: May Street "Worth trying are the brie and pear quesadillas" This is WHY you should go. OMG, they are so good.

    Also fab is Mixteco Grill, which I think is run by a former Bayless cook. But I could be wrong. The mole was wonderful!

  • In reply to chigordon:

    For all of you calling me out for this post, I ask you to pay attention. I wrote in my post Bayless is a great chef. My point is why do the media mainly celebrate him as the leading national expert on Mexican cuisine. Can't they find more diverse chefs to be judges on Top Chef? Can't print media be more inclusive and include more Latino and African-American chefs in their coverage? Women have long complained that they faced barriers becoming respected chefs. I'm saying let's pay attention to what other Mexican and Latino chefs are doing. That's why I asked you to send me recommendations of other Mexican and Latino chefs. So far nobody has.

  • In reply to TeresaPuente:

    Ummm....did you not see the episode that featured Wilo Benitez? Oh, yeah...he was on the episode WITH Rick Bayless when the tongue taco was made.

    Of course, he cooks classical Puerto Rican cuisine, in Puerto Rico, and is known internationally as the leading expert in Puerto Rican food.

    But, you're right, although Puerto Ricans are 'Latinos' they aren't Mexicans.

  • In reply to TeresaPuente:

    This is digusting! WHY is a WOMEN talking about PROFFESIONAL cooking? that has been a mans domain for years. she does not have the life experiance for it..

    ok sorry bad attempt at showing her how idiotic she is. Yes sh e is a idiot and a racist. she should be fired. i gotta imagian the backlash if a white Male had said something like this.

  • In reply to TeresaPuente:

    With all due respect, please scrutinize your original post closely - you write "Something just bugged me that a white guy was gaining so much fame for his Mexican cuisine." Although you do give him some credit, your core argument in the end is that you want the fame and respect he gets to go to a Mexican Chef. However, if there isn't someone of comparable knowledge and charity (right now - to the best of our knowledge), then can we really say that the media is celebrating his cuisine simply because he is white? We can't - this is more complex than it looks at the offset.

    To be a knowledgeable and gifted chef takes a deep passion and years of training. So instead of attacking his merits based on his skin tone or citizenship, you should focus your energies on connecting less represented communities to the culinary fields. A connection to the complexities surrounding sustaining culture would be highly beneficial as well. Unfortunately, the challenges presented here are the same as with any field that requires years of training, a strong passion for the field of interest, and the resources to divulge oneself in them. I suppose a basis of comparison may be the training for a phD.

    At the end of the day, your post was divisive and critical of Rick Bayless for the wrong reasons. In fact, you should learn more about him - after this I hope that you do. As a proud latina, I am proud that there is someone out there informing the public about the beauty and complexity of Mexican cuisine - irrespective of his race or nationality.

  • In reply to TeresaPuente:

    "That's why I asked you to send me recommendations of other Mexican and Latino chefs. So far nobody has."

    I think that no one has made any suggestions should answer your question. Rick Bayless is the best at Mexican cuisine. The fact that you resent him for being white is your own racist problem.

  • In reply to TeresaPuente:

    No, she isn't racist. If anything, her point of view was just too much for you sissies, but at the same time it was a little foolish.

    Mexico has always had this cuisine. It's just that Mexico is, and always has been depicted as 'bad' in some way or fashion. The food's bad, the countries evil and dirty, etc etc. There's been no real point for a Mexican to pioneer our cuisine in this country. I mean Taco Bell has been here for who knows how long, and that stuff tastes like dog food, and you people eat that s#$% up lol. It wasn't until the mid 90's until your stomachs could even tolerate southwestern food, which is just a mild adaptation of actual Mexican cuisine lol.

    But obviously it would have looked better for us as Mexican-Americans if you had the Italians represented by Italian-American Michael Chiarello, the French by Hubert Keller, and Mexican cuisine by a Mexican or Mexican-American. If that was the case, I think Ms. Puente wouldn't have made such a issue out of this. Because I mean, unless you're a total moron, you should be able to imagine all the eye's rolling at the fact that the Mexican cuisine was represented by someone who wasn't even Mexican. But again, this is America. The only way people here would even consider eating a cuisine like Mexican Cuisine, is if it was presented by one of your own. lol I don't blame you though. It's always nicer to get a new experience from what ever you feel is a comfortable source. Not only that, but there are no great Mexican chefs that want to make the trip up north, which is why her rant was kinda foolish. Mexcio takes care of it's treasures. Any great Mexican chef that is even out there in the world would have no purpose to make the trip to a place like America. Mexico offers a far more lucrative life experience for a Mexican than America could ever offer, obviously. It's more of a burden to be Mexican-American, than to be Mexican. Plus, just cause you see a grip of Immigrants migrate north from Mexico, that doesn't mean the entire country is that desperate. It just means that portent of the country can't sustain to Mexico's set standards. People who can't meet the standard way of life in their home country have ended up coming to this country to try and get ahead. The Italians, Jewish, Irish all did this early in 1900's and before. Anyways, I know exactly where she was coming from. But she obviously didn't know who Rick Bayless was, the guy is all class and always respectful. You take the national pride away, and you couldn't have asked for a better "non-Mexican" representative of our cuisine. Rick Bayless is one bad mother f#$%er in the kitchen lol..

  • In reply to TeresaPuente:

    No, she isn't racist. If anything, her point of view was just too much for you sissies, but at the same time it was a little foolish.

    Mexico has always had this cuisine. It's just that Mexico is, and always has been depicted as 'bad' in some way or fashion. The food's bad, the countries evil and dirty, etc etc. There's been no real point for a Mexican to pioneer our cuisine in this country. I mean Taco Bell has been here for who knows how long, and that stuff tastes like dog food, and you people eat that s#$% up lol. It wasn't until the mid 90's until your stomachs could even tolerate southwestern food, which is just a mild adaptation of actual Mexican cuisine lol.

    But obviously it would have looked better for us as Mexican-Americans if you had the Italians represented by Italian-American Michael Chiarello, the French by Hubert Keller, and Mexican cuisine by a Mexican or Mexican-American. If that was the case, I think Ms. Puente wouldn't have made such a issue out of this. Because I mean, unless you're a total moron, you should be able to imagine all the eye's rolling at the fact that the Mexican cuisine was represented by someone who wasn't even Mexican. But again, this is America. The only way people here would even consider eating a cuisine like Mexican Cuisine, is if it was presented by one of your own. lol I don't blame you though. It's always nicer to get a new experience from what ever you feel is a comfortable source. Not only that, but there are no great Mexican chefs that want to make the trip up north, which is why her rant was kinda foolish. Mexcio takes care of it's treasures. Any great Mexican chef that is even out there in the world would have no purpose to make the trip to a place like America. Mexico offers a far more lucrative life experience for a Mexican than America could ever offer, obviously. It's more of a burden to be Mexican-American, than to be Mexican. Plus, just cause you see a grip of Immigrants migrate north from Mexico, that doesn't mean the entire country is that desperate. It just means that portent of the country can't sustain to Mexico's set standards. People who can't meet the standard way of life in their home country have ended up coming to this country to try and get ahead. The Italians, Jewish, Irish all did this early in 1900's and before. Anyways, I know exactly where she was coming from. But she obviously didn't know who Rick Bayless was, the guy is all class and always respectful. You take the national pride away, and you couldn't have asked for a better "non-Mexican" representative of our cuisine. Rick Bayless is one bad mother f#$%er in the kitchen lol..

  • In reply to MasterBlaster:

    "Something just bugged me that a white guy was gaining so much fame for his Mexican cuisine."

    That is a racist statement.

    "Mexico offers a far more lucrative life experience for a Mexican than America could ever offer"

    That is an idiotic statement. Not even Mexicans want to be in Mexico. Mexicans are fleeing Mexico by the millions. When are you moving to Mexico and do you need help packing?

  • In reply to TeresaPuente:

    You must be the dumbest journalist I have read, but since I am not a journalist myself I shouldn't be criticizing your skills as a journalist, just as you shouldn't be trying to place Mr. Bayless at a lower level as a chef than other chefs just because you have had a taste of his food, you are no expert on food just because you eat food. The same goes for heritage, the fact that you might be considered Mexican doesn't make you an expert on Mexican food, unless you get educated in the field like Mr. Bayless has done and for which he deserves the accolades. Basing your criticism of his skills on the color of his skin, makes you a racist, denying it doesn't mean you are not a racist.
    The good thing about education is that you can learn and be an expert on anything, anywhere, despite the color of your skin.
    I was born in Mexico, moved here after college and visit every year my hometown. I enjoy high quality Mexican food, when I visit restaurants that can provide this kind of food in Mexico, I generally have to pay a higher price than at other restaurants, similar in price than Mr. Bayless' restaurants. I love visiting Frontera because it serves the type of high quality authentic Mexican food at a reasonable price.

  • In reply to TeresaPuente:

    "Xni-Pec, 5135 W. 25th St., Cicero. 708-652-8680.
    You have to go out to the suburb of Cicero but it's worth the drive"
    To show your utter ignorance about the Chicago area, this restaurant is literally located 5 blocks straight west of where Chicago ends. People from "La Villita" could just walk there... Again, you have to be the dumbest journalist I have read, you throw out sentences without base for the fun of hearing the key strokes under your fingers.

  • In reply to TeresaPuente:

    I've been a Latina and Mexican fan of Bayless for over a decade. There are a number of reasons for his success, most of which have to do with his level of professionalism, talent, dedication to quality and consistency when it comes to how he runs his restaurants and other ventures. I especially appreciate his belief in educating everyone about our culture and cuisine in order to break down stereotypes. He has never done this in a patronizing way but rather in a tone of respect and appreciation for what he loves and believes. I'm a fan of his food because he believes in providing his customers quality ingredients without having to overinflate his prices. He's dedicated to local green initiatives and our city through his foundation. This for me hits a very high note. As a restaurant business owner myself, I can tell you that there are many Latino restaurants that treat and pay their Mexican staff "con la punta del pie" (a saying referring to low and degrading treatment). Walk into many of these popular taquerias or restaurants and ask an employee what they're paid or how they're treated. It's embarrassing and humiliating that our own people treat good hardworking people so badly because they're undocumented and can be easily manipulated. This is a story that should be uncovered. Believe me, Teresa, there's NOTHING more aggravating than watching Latino/a owned restaurants or bakeries get celebrated on the news/TV, knowing that they are building their success on the backs of immigrants who they unfairly treat. I could go on and on about this...but why don't you? Why don't you focus your words on real issues that matter..

  • In reply to TeresaPuente:

    I agree. BUT. Your skepticism should be directed at the white main-stream media. That's where the real problem lies. And besides everyone my mom is the best Mexican cook. Ask my Italian brother-in-law.

  • In reply to TeresaPuente:

    My mom is pretty good. Why don't you write about her?

  • In reply to TeresaPuente:

    Because of Rick Bayless, thousands of people have discovered that Mexican cooking is wonderful and complex. Did you prefer it when most Americans thought Taco Time was Mexican food? Rather than being happy about what he's accomplished for your country's cuisine, you engage in jealous sniping. Your post makes you sound petty and mean-spirited. And you know us "white people", we probably aren't going to eat at a counter in a grocery store, no matter how wonderful and authentic the food may be.

  • In reply to chigordon:

    I don't have a problem with this post; I think it's interesting to ask how and why a particular person becomes a "name" in the media. A big part of the answer is lazy journalism, I think.

    As for recommendations, I vote for Wholly Frijoles on Touhy in Lincolnwood, run by Chef J. Carmen Villegas.

  • In reply to chigordon:

    If you've followed Top Chef Masters, it's clear in the critic's scoring that there still exists a bias against non-European cuisine in the upper reaches of the culinary world. Watch any of the last three episodes and listen to the critics wax rhapsodic about Bayless' cooking- only to award the French or Italian dishes with more stars.
    Say what you will about whether it's a shame or not for a non-Latino to represent Latino cooking- I say the culinary world still has some structural racism/elitism built in that Bayless is helping to tear down.

  • In reply to andrewgill:

    Agreed - energies should be focused on encouraging others to understand that Mexican food isn't just about Tacos, Tortas and Burritos (although they are awesome), but those are just good starters to so much more. Energies should be focused on what is a beautifully complex and diverse cuisine. I am a big foodie, and one thing that upsets me on cooking shows is the continuous insistence that Mexican food is a great 30 minute meal comparable to a mac and cheese box - sad.

  • In reply to chigordon:

    "You can accuse me of being too politically correct."
    Excuse me? You really think this article contains one iota of political correctness?
    Since when was it politically correct to judge -anyone- or their abilities based on their race/ethnicity/heritage? I thought today's idea of political correctness is truly having an understanding that all people have all kinds of experiences and anyone can do anything, good or bad.
    This is not politically correct: "Something just bugged me that a white guy was gaining so much fame for his Mexican cuisine."
    Neither is this: "The story had a weird tone kinda like watch the white guy hang out in the barrio and judge whether the food measures up to real Mexican food." The sentence is also not written very well for a journalist...
    Wow, who let this article pass through the editors? And what are they going to do about it now?

  • In reply to chigordon:

    The name of the show is Top Chef Masters. Rick is one of the world's foremost chefs of Mexican cuisine, regardless of his heritage. That's why he's on the show. There were other chefs of hispanic descent on the show as their have been on each season of the show. Your comments smack of racism, though, I suspect, are more ignorant than anything. That said, racism typically springs from ignorance. It works both ways. Go back and watch Ratatouille, "anyone can cook." Rick should be celebrated for what he is, not questioned for what he is not.

  • In reply to chigordon:

    As a food professional, I have to say that Rick Bayless is an amazing ambassador of regional Mexican cuisine. Think about, he has devoted his life, publicly and privately to Mexican food, culture and history. It is widely known that he takes his staff to Mexico every year to learn about the culture and the traditional cuisine. He's obviously generous to his staff and also with his praise of every other quality Mexican place in the city whether it be Maxwell St. food vendors or a little cafe owner that makes Tres Leches cakes. Lets not forget the many people of Mexican descent and every other descent who have trained over the years in his kitchen, that have gone on to open their own places--Mexican or otherwise. If you get to know him a little bit more (and I'm not talking about personally-I've never met him) you will be proud of him.

  • In reply to chigordon:

    It's so disappointing to read blogs like this. And to think the author gets paid for this. If your "main point" was to try and highlight mexican cooks, why call Bayless' race into question? Why spend the first half of the blog being critical of hius success?

    Of course that was not your main point. You main point was to use the race card and ride a Bayless' coattails to try and gain some readership. You must be very proud.

  • In reply to chigordon:

    Wow! I can't believe what I just read. To say that you are being "too politically correct" is laughable. I'm a proud latina woman but this article makes me cringe with embarassment. Rick Bayless has been to mexico more times than me, my siblings and parents put together. He has given so much of his time and money to help the people of mexico. Note his charity of choice on the show. He deserves all the attention he is getting. You should have done your homework before writing this piece. While there are plenty of latino chefs in this great city, I doubt they have done all Rick has done for the community. Lastly, I think no one is answering your question because of how ridiculous this article is to begin with. Hats off to Rick for being a GREAT top chef!!

  • In reply to Yudy:

    Thanks Yudy, for those of us who can't succinctly express ourselves - you summed it up perfectly!

  • In reply to Yudy:

    I've tried desperately hard to deconstruct this blog and try to understand the writer's attempt at making a relevant, rational point here. And I just can't do it. On a more simple note: How could you possibly compare the taco stands you listed to a restaurant like Frontera? It's simply not an apples-to-apples comparison (one is in a grocery store?). Secondly, although you never used the word "racist" in your blog (even though many are injecting that term into your mouth here), there are certainly some racist connotations in the idea that a Caucasian person should not be lauded by the media for his expertise and skill in a "foreign" cuisine. It's been said before by many commenters here already, but deeming someone not worthy of the attention they've gained simply because of their background and their race most certainly WILL cry "racist" to many people.

    This is basically the straw that broke the camel's back. I've had issues with this blog and its irresponsibility before, and I hope to see it taken down soon...even though that's not likely, as you've garnered too much attention and traffic from it already. Here's hoping you gain some sense, and that also nobody ever accuses you of the unfair things you have accused the media and Chef Bayless of, based on his race.

  • In reply to chigordon:

    I'm disappointed with this article, because it wrongly assumes that a chef needs to be born in a certain region to cook authentically. The best restaurants in this country are led by Americans preparing the cuisines of other countries. Thomas Keller and Mario Batali are just a few examples.

    I think it's Rick's unrelenting passion for Mexican cuisine that has made him so popular. He can hardly contain himself when he is describing a dish or preparation. That kind of enthusiasm towards food is infectious, no matter his ethnicity. It also helps that he writes incredible cookbooks and travels in Mexico extensively.

    It's fascinating, because he was basically asked the same question last weekend at the Hideout during the Interview Show. He said that he would love to share the spotlight. Frontera just happens to be the most famous Mexican restaurant in the country because he has maintained high standards for over twenty years.

  • In reply to chigordon:

    I understand what this writer is trying to get at: let's give some more attention to other mexican/latin chefs out there. But she's perpetuating the very thing she is vilifying. "Can't print media be more inclusive and include more Latino and African-American chefs in their coverage?" The commentary is mostly about Bayless, with 3 short mentions of obscure places in the Chicago area. I would have loved to see a more in-depth report with interviews about other mexican chefs.

    The other problem is that the tone of this commentary is offensive, in a number of ways. And that is why no one is contributing recommendations.

  • In reply to chigordon:

    The mind boggles...can't really imagine how this column could be defended. But, in any case, get ready for some more competition...Paul Kahan is preparing to open a taqueria, and I have a feeling it's going to put anything in Pilsen to shame.

  • In reply to chigordon:

    10 Reasons the media considers Bayless the expert on Mexican cuisine?

    10. 10,000 followers on twitter @Rick_Bayless,
    9. Thousands of fans on FB,
    8. An obvious passion for Mexico
    7. A lifelong study of the cuisine
    6. Fabulous restaurants showcasing the cuisine,
    5. Many many cookbooks on the cuisine,
    4. Success on TCM staying true to his cuisine(www.root4rick.com)
    3. tv show celebrating the cuisine...
    2. travel extensively in Mexico studing all regions of the cuisine...
    1. Can you think of one person anywhere else in the country, let alone Chicago who can claim this?

  • In reply to dscott:

    You nailed it right there.

  • In reply to dscott:

    If Teresa's main concern is that the media needs to focus more on Latino and African-American chefs in its coverage, she should have written a post about it -- and chosen a better example to support her point. This one comes off as a knock on Rick Bayless, one of the greatest students, cheerleaders and supporters of Mexican culture in the U.S.

    You can't overstate Bayless' contributions to bringing Mexican cuisine to the U.S., or more specifically Chicago. Bayless has plenty of living proof too. Take a look at the chefs at many of the area's top Mexican restaurants -- Mixteco's Raul Arreola, Los Moles' Geno Bahena, Salpicon's Priscila Satkoff, Maya Del Sol's Ruben Beltran -- and see how proud they are to acknowledge their time spent in Bayless' kitchens. Bayless is the king of Mexican cuisine in the U.S., and Chicago is lucky to have him.

  • In reply to dscott:

    as a mexican, it makes my warm and fuzzy inside to see that the american public is finally starting to see mexican cuisine as more than just a tex-mex combo plate. rick, and diana kennedy before him, are opening people's eyes to the artistic and elegant side of the mexican kitchen.

    part of what makes both our cuisine and our culture so rich is it's inclusiveness. we are not a pure race. most mexicans are part indigenous and part old world. it's this combination that makes us unique. it's what makes us who we are.

    you want to bring traditional mexican cooking and talented mexican chefs to the masses? then stop with the bigotry disguised as "political correctness" and let the people like rick educate mainstream america.

  • In reply to dscott:

    I concur wholeheartedly with Matt. Ultimately this boils down to someone who is Latino, being miffed that a non-Latino is being heralded as an expert where he has no place. Frankly, I think her assessment is really thin on merit and frankly somewhat racist. I

  • In reply to dscott:

    Art of Mexican Cooking that is.

  • In reply to dscott:

    Wow. Jealous much?

    I had the pleasure of meeting Rick Bayless - he's a stand-up great guy. If in your comments you are saying that you weren't trying to insult Bayless, well, then your headline was written to drive traffic. It's quite insulting.

    To paraphrase you:

    "I tried each of his restaurants once. And the food was great, but I never went back."

    Well, I tried your blog once and I'll never be back.

  • In reply to dscott:

    As blipsman noted above Rick Bayless was trained in anthropology. As an anthropologist myself I fully understand the need to immerse yourself into a culture and the keen observation skills required to do so. Considering that he was trained in anthropology he probably was able to pick up on the nuances of Mexican cuisine; tiny details that an insider might have become numb to. Just some food for thought.

  • In reply to dscott:

    Who invented the green bean casserole? is that ethnic American cuisine?

  • In reply to dscott:

    To claim that a white person couldn't be the one of the city's foremost experts in Mexican cuisine is racist--plain and simple.

  • In reply to chigordon:

    Latin@s don't get enough credit for their contributions in the culinary world. It's not Rick Bayless' fault that the media/hollywood/tv-producers prefer a clear english speaking white face, but the bias is hard to refute. Bayless does a lot to pay homage to the cultures/locations/people south of the border (part of his anthropology background). But, I think Ms. Puente is correct to encourage people to pay more attention to Latin@ chefs. She stuck her neck out on this, said what a lot of people were thinking, and she took nothing away from Bayless as she critiqued society.

  • Mister Obtuse is right: Bahena's restaurants were/are special. (I especially miss Ixcapuzalco.) Are they less admirable -- is Bahena less worthy of praise -- because he was mentored by a non-Mexican?

  • Geno came to my mind as well. He is a fabulous example of a well known latino chef. But as Mister Obtuse said, he apprenticed under Rick Bayless. So if he was the apprentice...doesn't that make Bayless the 'Master'? When the country's finest latino chefs are learning from Bayless, that leads me to believe that he is the leading chef of Mexican cuisine.

  • read this article.
    The Silent Success of Mexican Chefs
    http://richardfoss.com/silentsuccess.html

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