Rick Bayless

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Though the competition is stiff, it should come as no surprise that the top chef on our list is none other than Rick Bayless. Like Chris Cosentino, Rick Bayless could be described as one of the first celebrity chefs; however, Rick came across his acclaim not through a unique twist on existing dishes, but by simply creating traditional Mexican meals better than anyone else.

Rick began his career a bit differently than most chefs; rather than working his way up as a chef in the traditional sense, he took a more academic approach, spending more than six years researching Mexican cuisine. As the host of the 26-part PBS television series “Cooking Mexican” in 1978, Rick was able to blend his academic pursuits in Spanish and Latin-American studies with his lifelong love for cooking.

Rick’s best-selling book “Mexico: One Plate at a Time” is widely considered the singular authority on Mexican cooking, and the long-running success of his restaurant, Frontera Grill (opened in 1987 in Chicago), is a testament to his ability to capture the spirit and essence of traditional Mexican fare.

Rick’s second restaurant, Topolobampo, was opened in 1989, and it is one of the few fine-dining Mexican establishments in the country. As of 2015, Topolobampo has one Michelin star. And unlike any other chef on this list, Rick was considered a serious contender for the position of White House Executive Chef in 2008. No wonder he’s number one.

Top Dishes

 

Specialties & Resources

Though it is rare for an American to accurately capture the essence of traditional Mexican fare, Rick’s dedication to learning as much as possible about Mexican and Latin-American culture has served him well in the kitchen. The menu at Frontera Grill is largely focused on the varied cuisines from Mexico’s Oaxaca region, with staples such as shrimp & scallop ceviche verde, mushroom garnachas, yellowtail aguachile, suadero ahumado with Oaxacan black mole, queso añejo mashed potatoes, and local seasonal vegetables.

The menu at Topolobampo is considerably more elegant, focused on emotion and presented with an artist’s flair for the dramatic. His “Exuberance” menu includes wild salmon with a Veracruz tsunami salsa (tomatoes, jalapeños, capers, olive oil and herbs), while “Desire” naturally points to his Ostiones Cachondos (poached oysters with pasilla chile, truffle, and black garlic, served with crema, creamy foie gras, paddlefish caviar and truffle slices). Demonstrating his abilities as a well-rounded chef, his “Nostalgia” menu includes braised Creekstone short rib, woodland mushroom bread pudding, creamy wild greens, white sweet potato, and mole de olla (naturally). Tongue planted firmly in cheek, this selection is called “Am I in a 1960’s French Restaurant?”