Rick Bayless, a leader in the Mexican culinary space and Chicago chef/owner of beloved restaurants Topolobampo, Frontera Grill, and XOCO, is headed back to the South Beach Food & Wine Festival, which begins today. The busy chef, who recently launched a podcast with Chicago food personality Steve Dolinsky, unveiled new historic tasting menus at Topolobampo, and is planning a couple of new restaurants this year, sat down with TLK to talk samba, South Beach, and the evolving state of Mexican cuisine.
TLK: First off, tell us a little bit about the podcast with Steve Dolinsky.
RB: Steve’s a really amazing journalist. Radio journalist. He does a variety of things from high to low covering food markets and that kind of stuff. He and I have been tweeting for about two years, trying to do a food spot on a station here, but then we thought ‘in this day and age we don’t really need the radio station anymore.’ So, we launched a podcast. We’re just having fun with it. It’s really fast paced and very interesting. We do everything from calling up restaurant people -- reviewers or journalists all over the country -- and getting them to tell us what’s happening in their city. We do a quiz that’s sort of trivia related. And I love cooking on the radio…
TLK: You can hear the pops and the sizzles of the kitchen…
RB: Yes, you can hear the sounds and it forces you, as a cook, to explain everything in great detail because you have to create the visuals yourself. I really love that part of it. We are also doing a little chef challenge, where you have to make a dish. Both chefs have to work with one of the same ingredients. We did one that was on mustard greens, and then one that was on celery root, and you have 15 minutes to make a dish. You can only incorporate five other ingredients.
TLK: Sounds like a blast.
RB: It is. It really is.
TLK: So, past the podcast, you have a lot of projects on the docket right now.
RB: It does seem like there’s a lot of them, yes!
TLK: The Wicker Park restaurant. That’s a little bit overdue, eh?
RB: Ohhh…is it overdue? No, it’s way overdue. I thought we might be open by now, at least. We haven’t even started construction. And it seems like every time we come across something else, we have to fix it. But we like the building so we’re continuing to work on it.
TLK: Your own personal money pit.
RB: It is!
TLK: We know you’re not going to tell us the details of the new restaurant, but we’ve gone nuts trying to figure out what exactly you’re doing. Please, sir…a kernel.
RB: No, you have to wait! We’re almost ready to announce it but we’re not quite there yet. I don’t want to tell people. You know, there are some chefs that have a crazy dream one night and go to the press with it the next morning. I’m not that guy!
TLK: Alright, alright. So, let’s change gears. You have had a big year in terms of travel. Spent a lot of time in South America, in Peru, and you’re headed to Brazil next, yes?
RB: That’s right. We work with wholesome sweeteners for organic sugar and guava syrup. For this trip, we’re on a job that focuses on sugar and honey production in Brazil, all organic and sustainable, so we’re really excited. It’s just a few days but it happens over Carnaval in Rio. We get to actually spend the day in a VIP booth. I’m not sure what to expect but I am as excited about that as I am about seeing all the sugar production!