Regional Mexican cuisine
Many people who have worked in Chef Rick Bayless’ kitchen since he opened Frontera Grill 30 years ago have gone on to their own success as chefs and restaurateurs. But among those who have worked for Rick, few — if any — have benefited more than Anselmo Ramirez, chef-owner of Chicago’s popular Ixcateco Grill, where he combines the Mexican food knowledge he gained from his grandmother with the restaurant craft he learned while working for 13 years in Rick Bayless’ kitchens… starting as a 17-year-old dishwasher. Anselmo will participate in the Frontera 30th Anniversary Celebration fundraiser on April 30 at The Art Institute of Chicago.
It might sound somewhat surprising that Rick Bayless, a pioneering advocate for the Chicago region’s local farmers and a master of regional Mexican cuisine, recently converted to using imported corn for his tortillas.
But this isn’t just any corn. It is dried heirloom corn from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, where some historians believe the cultivation of maize began. And it underscores the fact that in a diverse and increasingly interconnected food culture, authentic farm to table restaurants may take their search for the best ingredients way beyond their local areas…. and sometimes to a different part of the world.
Chicago on Monday hosted the annual James Beard Foundation culinary awards ceremony, and Rick Bayless was one of the event’s co-chairmen. Famed for popularizing regional Mexican cuisine in the city, he is a celebrity chef with a long-running TV show, and he has just added to his long list of cookbooks. But to many in the Good Food movement, it is his history of helping building the region’s local food system that is his biggest starring role.