It seems that once a person has achieved celebrity status, especially when that person is a chef, almost invariably someone wants to take ‘em down. Not so with Rick Bayless. Owner of Frontera Grill and Topolobambo, he also is the author of several cookbooks and host of “Mexico – One Plate At A Time.” The man seems to be universally loved and, if the Chefs Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony was any indication, for good reason.
The Chicago Culinary Museum and Chefs Hall of Fame hosted an elaborate evening for the popular restaurateur/chef/author/TV star at the The Palmer House Hilton. Local culinary schools set up tasting stations around the room, and the city’s culinary elite and their supporters tried everything from pulled pork to foie gras.
This was the third year of the award. The first chef to be inducted was, of course, Charlie Trotter, and the second was Heaven On Seven’s Jimmy Bannos. Everyone who came to the podium to honor Bayless was so incredibly complimentary it was almost over the top. Trotter, Naha‘s Carrie Nahabedian, 12-time James Beard award winner Steve Dolinsky, Food Industry News VP Cary Miller, Chicago Culinary Museum President and Co-Founder John Castro – everyone praised Bayless and his wife Deann so much I felt like we were in in the presence of royalty! Musician Jose Cornier even wrote a song for Bayless called “One Plate At A Time.”
Yet when Bayless came to the microphone, his passion for his craft and his devotion to his wife and his conviction in the importance of his work was as obvious and genuine as a child’s love for his dog. This celebrated, praised, and frankly, revered man was just so darn glad to be able to do what he loves in a city he adores.
“Chicago’s the greatest food city in America,” he said. And when he said “It’s a beautiful time to be alive. It’s a beautiful time to be here in Chicago,” you knew he meant every word.
I, too, am now a certified member of the Rick Bayless fan club. I thank you, Mr. Bayless, for your humbleness and for your consistent effort to bring a country’s culture to Chicago and to the world through food. Thank you for exhibiting such pure joy at being honored for simply doing what you love. Congratulations – you deserve it.