My Chicago: Rick Bayless

Chef and restaurateur Rick Bayless tells why he loves Chicago and how he spends the perfect day in town.

At his restaurants, chef Rick Bayless lays out the immense range of traditional Mexican cuisine. In his TV series “Mexico: One Plate at a Time” and cookbooks like "Authentic Mexican," he blends serious scholarship with joyous culinary adventurousness. This month, he flexes his cooking­­—and acting—skills in “Cascabel,” an acrobatic, multi-sensory dinner theater production. Though he never slows down, we find out why this Oklahoman makes Chicago his home.

Chef Rick Bayless
Chef Rick Bayless

What makes Chicago an attractive city to you?

The chef community here is remarkable: We like, help and inspire each other. Also, the quality of the ingredients we get here is amazing. I was at Green City Market and was blown away by how much the market has grown. I mean, we have black garlic now. Black garlic! Back when we started the market, that was unthinkable. But now it’s like, well, yeah, of course we have black garlic, why wouldn’t we?

Can you tell us a little about your new restaurant in Wicker Park?

It’s our second location of Xoco. There will be many similarities (tortas, caldos, churros), with our original River North location, but the Wicker Park location is bigger, it has a bar and a stronger focus on beer. And there will be servers; there won’t be just counter service.

You seem to have a defined fashion sense. How would you describe your style and where do you shop?

Clean lines, comfortable but polished. I shop all over: from Nordstrom to online fun T-shirts to thrift.

When you have family or friends in town, where do you eat dinner?

I usually cook for them at my house. I love cooking at home. For a lot of chefs, that’s the last thing they’d want to do; I look forward to it every weekend. I’ll try recipes from a cookbook I’m excited about, or, if I’m working on a new book of my own (which I am now), I’ll use that time to develop recipes.

What was it like serving the Obamas?

It’s always great to cook for the Obama family: They’re adventurous eaters. Anything we recommend, they happily try. Those are always the best people to cook for. Cooking at the White House was different than serving them at Topolobampo: much harder. I worked with my head down in that White House kitchen for two days straight, but it was also super rewarding.

How important is your home garden?

I love to walk out to the back yard and instantly have salad greens for dinner. We also have chickens and bees. A little farm in the city!

Tell us about the importance of yoga.

I can’t start a day without yoga. Even when I’m traveling, I can practice yoga in my hotel room. Yoga provides me with two crucial things: strength and balance. 

My Perfect Day

7 a.m.
On a perfect day, I’m doing yoga at home in a room where I’m surrounded by plants and flowers. If it's nice outside, we'll eat in our garden.

10 a.m.
Brunch with my wife. I’m a savory brunch guy, so I’ll make something with eggs and any kind of cured pork, pancetta, bacon, whatever. Maybe I’ll make some cornmeal pancakes and top them with smoked salmon.

If I’m not working on my own cookbooks, I’m delving into other people’s. I love a good book that teaches me something I don’t know, like Amy Stewart’s "The Drunken Botanist."

3 p.m.
Deann and I often do Sunday matinees, to keep my nights open to have dinner with friends. We go to Lookingglass, Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare, Goodman, The Court—there’s amazing theater in Chicago. I try to see as much as I can.

7 p.m.
I almost always have people over for dinner on Sunday nights. I know, I know, I already cooked one meal at home today, but I can’t help myself. I try out new cookbooks or test new recipes of my own. If it’s the former, I almost never cook Mexican; if it’s the latter, then, obviously, I do.

After Dinner
Sometimes we go to another PM show. Recently we saw a matinee at Steppenwolf and an evening show at Lookingglass!