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Aug 29, 2010 02:23 PM

Rick Bayless...Jumped the Shark?

Interesting article from the OCWeekly.

Apparently Jonathan Gold made some remarks that haven't sat too well in Chicago. Be sure to scroll down and watch the video of RB being interviewed on the NBC affiliate in L.A. Intereting perspective, but flawed, as any Angeleno can (will?) tell you

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  1. I'm not sure Bayless has jumped the shark (was he ever on the "other" side of the shark), as much as his true colors are now showing.

    For exampel, you can get away with cookie cutter faux dim sum in a place like, say, Denver, but you pull the same act in, say, Los Angeles or Vancouver, and one will quickly realize that you are really ugly looking in the buff (in other words, the Emperor has no clothes).

    Bayless' act just doesn't hold water here in LA, and plus it's been already done, and probably better with places like Rivera.

    4 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      "his true colors are now showing"
      I think you're on to something there, ipsedixit.

      1. re: streetgourmetla

        When I suggested that last year when he was winning TCM, I got jumped all over and told I was crazy. I have to say I agree with ipse.

        1. re: ChefJune

          I think years ago when he first opened Frontera, he was pretty true to traditional Mexican cuisine. Now? Not so much. To me it seems like he's moved much more towards Alta Cocina but it seems to me to be more of an American interpretation of Alta Cocina than something that mirrors, supports or blend with Alta Cocina as cooked in Mexico.

          His latest cookbook - Fiesta at Rick's - was a huge disappointment to me. Aside from the fact he seems to be in every single photo on every single page, some of the recipes either don't work, or have errors in them (ex: the baking time on the Flan Impossible is off by anywhere from 10-20 minutes depending upon the oven. That's a glaring error in baking). I have most of his cookbooks and have cooked from the all. They were reliable and I could count on the recipes working. Not so much with "Fiesta". The attention to detail is lacking and recipe testing appears to be pretty suspect as well.

          And now and "add ins" product for guacamole for his Frontera line of prepared foods? Does guacamole really need "add ins"...

          1. re: ChefJune

            Well, I certainly didn't. Chances are I removed myself from the threads with all the mooning over him. How anyone could find him 'cute' is beyond me.

      2. I'm disappointed that Rick Bayless wasn't a little more articulate about Red O's place in the local food scene. To me it's an upscale introduction to regional Mexican street food that panders to locals who would Never visit East LA or other destination restaurants. I agree with the OCW posters that he should have done *much more* research to discover the recent improvements in Mexican food 'diversity'.

        Even worse, Jonathan Gold should have taken aim *instead* at Mexican-American restauranteurs who have (mostly) abandoned their regional foods in favor of simplified, Americanized versions. JG followers and other chowhounds know where the 'good stuff' is after (IMO) way too much investigation; the public at large and immigrants as well don't care or have no clue.

        Food wise, LA/OC Weekly columnists are preaching to the converted. How often do you get any decent chow tips from the LA Times, OC Register or local TV?

        5 Replies
        1. re: DiveFan

          I have to say I was really surprised when I read that Jonathan Gold had taken on Rick Bayless. I was equally surprised that RB came across so ill-informed (and it really pains me to say this, somewhat arrogant) about the state of Mexican cuisine in SoCal.

          It was, at best, an out-of-date perspective. And in some respects that might make sense, he almost opened Frontera Grill on Melrose Ave. lo those many years ago. The state of Mexican cuisine back then 70s & 80s and I *did* live in LA at that time) probably was more limited to the immigration from Jalisco, Sonora, Sinoloa, etc. I don't think it was as rich, vibrant or diverse as it is now. But I also think RB's "Mexican" food has strayed a good bit from it's roots as well.

          In no way to I begrudge Rick for the success he's had over the last few years, and he is a genuinely sincere and nice guy. He's worked hard and deserved it, but this article made me kind of wonder if the fame gods were calling in their markers.

          1. re: DiningDiva

            What were RB's Mexican roots? His restaurants have always been in the wealthier North Side neighborhood, not one of the Mexican ones. Upscale Topolobampo was started in 1989, only two years after Frontera Grill. When I lived in Chicago I ate as Frontera Grill once. A jicama, mandarine orange 'pico' salad is the only dish I remember distinctly. His current menu has a similar jicama, cucumber and pineapple dish.

            1. re: paulj

              Paulj, thank you for the opportunity to clarify. Clearly RB does not have Mexcian "roots" as in ancestery. I was thinking more in terms of the early years of Frontera where it was important to adhere a little more rigidly to traditional Mexican cooking than he is now. Since Mexican cuisine outside of tacos, burritos, enchiladas or the occasional tamales was not well known in ithis country at that time, and his stated aim was to bring the flavors of Mexico that he loved to the U.S., he probably needed to stick pretty close to traditional. I think we also have to consider the dining climate in the U.S. 25 years ago, it wasn't nearly as sophisticated or educated as it is now. 25 years ago his concept and cooking were a lot closer to traditional Mexican than they are now, hence my use of the phrase "his Mexican roots". Sorry if I wasn't clear.

              The restaurant business can be difficult and I think for any restaurant to survive for 25+ years one of the things they need to do is evolved along with their dining public. RB and his mini fleet of restaurants have done this. No way could he have served then what he serves now, he was too young and his diners too green. He's grown enough that he can keep reinventing himself and his business, so major kudos to him for that. But is what he's currently doing Mexican cuisine? I'm not sure. Perhaps in D.F., but I'm not sure how well his food would play in the rest of the Repbulic.

              BTW, thanks for the link below. There is one thing I do know...Mr. B should keep his mouth shut about the state of Mexican food in CA.

              1. re: DiningDiva

                <Since Mexican cuisine outside of tacos, burritos, enchiladas or the occasional tamales was not well known in ithis country at that time,> maybe not countrywide, but at the time Frontera opened, Mexican restaurants run by Mexicans were ALL over Chicago, and not just in Pilsen. We had the real stuff LONG before we ever heard of Rick Bayless.

                To this day, when I go back to Chicago and I want Mexican food, I don't go to a Bayless restaurant. Not because they are bad, there's just other, better places... many of which are virtually nameless.

                1. re: ChefJune

                  Undoubted that is probably true. In the link Paulj posted below RB weighs in on Mexican food in CA saying it's primarily taqueria food. While there is certainly some validity to that statement it's far from true and it's far from the state of Mexican food in CA

                  I think, too, these days it depends upon what kind of dining experience the diner is seeking out. Something traditional or "authentic" (whatever that means to the person) or something more cutting edge and contemporary.

                  I don't think we can minimize, ignore or dismiss the roll that RB (as well as Diana Kennedy) has played in educating Americans about the diversity of the Mexican kitchen. (And I don't particularly think any poster on this thread is doing that, it's just a general observation on my part). Between the 2 of them they've introduced many of us to the varied flavors and made reproducing them at home attainable. I've been aware of RB since the publication of his first cookbook, have followed his career off and on and have even taken classes with him. So when he manages to offend me twice in the span of 2 weeks - the video in the link I posted and the interview in the link Paulj posted - and even come off as somewhat arrogant, I have to wonder if the tremendous success in the last 3 years has taken a toll...hence, has he jumped the shark ;-)

                  Now I have to RB creating a version of Mexican cuisine that doesn't exist in Mexico - even in the high end alta cocina places - either to satisfy his ego, or becuase he can...of is what he is doing just the natural extension of the evolution of his own personal development and that of his restaurants?

        2. Wow. I'm actually surprised RB opened a place in LA. Kinda like bringing sand to the beach, isn't it? I admire him, respect him, loved seeing him win TCM, but the arrogance of his comments is a bit off-putting. That said, the comments below the article were the most fun to read. I love how passionate people are about food!

          1. i've seen chefs less skilled than bayless act with more arrogance - he should be allowed to get cocky every once in a while. i do agree that with it's large latino community possessing the same tricks he has up his sleeve, los angeles is not the place for him to expand.

            13 Replies
            1. re: epabella

              Are you suggesting there isn not a large Latino (specifically a huge Mexican) community in Chicago? if so, you would be wrong.

              1. re: ChefJune

                "Are you suggesting there isn not a large Latino (specifically a huge Mexican) community in Chicago?"

                no, only that los angeles has a strong claim for 'mexicali' cuisine and that chicago is better known for windy days and deep dish pizza (yum!) than illinois/mexican fusion gastronomy.

                1. re: epabella

                  The nickname 'Windy City' derives from the boastfulness of its politicians, not its weather.

                  Deep dish pizza grew out of its Italian immigrant communities, as did Italian Beef.

                  There's Chicago, and there's downstate (the rest of Illinois). Migration of Illinois has nearly always been to the Chicago, not to the farming areas of the rest of the state. That's true for the Italians, the Poles, Southern Blacks, and more recently Mexicans (and other Hispanics). I doubt if a distinctive Chicago-Mexican street food will develop. There's too much travel and mixing for that to happen anymore.

                  1. re: paulj

                    "The nickname 'Windy City' derives from the boastfulness of its politicians, not its weather."

                    thanks for the trivia. aren't ALL politicians boastful? to me at least, they epitomize the flatulence of society. they stink but we couldn't do without them or we all get gas pain.

                    "I doubt if a distinctive Chicago-Mexican street food will develop"

                    i don't know if that was what ChefJune was suggesting but bayless put chicago on the culinary map for his mexican food. chicago food to the world was deep dish pizza until rick bayless came along.

                    1. re: epabella

                      Here's an article that discusses Mexican authenticity
                      Page 3 discusses the Chicago.Pilsen district, quoting Rick
                      "The Mexican restaurants I have visited in Chicago's Pilsen district are unconsciously authentic; the owners serve the same stewed goat and pork in chile sauce as they did in Mexico, simply because they have no other frame of reference. Rick Bayless, the chef and owner of Frontera Grill in Chicago and probably America's foremost authority on Mexican food, discussed the phenomenon with me one day over lunch."

                      1. re: epabella

                        <"The nickname 'Windy City' derives from the boastfulness of its politicians, not its weather.">

                        That's only part of it. The nickname was coined by someone who walked out of the Drake Hotel on the lake side. Chicago is full of wind tunnels, but that may be one of the windiest corners in the US.

                        @epabella: Bayless may have chicago on the culinary map for his mexican food, but that's because the Mexicans (who have been in Chicago since before I was born--that would be '41) had and still have no pr for their food. Bayless is nothing if not a good promoter of himself and his food. --not knocking that, but it just is.

                        1. re: ChefJune

                          "Bayless is nothing if not a good promoter of himself and his food. --not knocking that, but it just is"

                          well he's also a respected tv cook after winning topchef masters. and that doesn't take away from the fact that manhattan or seattle are probably better spots than los angeles or albuquerque for bayless to expand.

                        2. re: epabella

                          "Chicago food to the world was deep dish pizza until rick bayless came along."


                            1. re: epabella

                              Sorry, but there are multitudes of people in the world for whom the name Rick Bayless never crosses their minds when thinking of Chicago food. And I'll wager a significant proportion of these don't equate Chicago food with deep dish pizza, either. Have you ever really been to Chicago? Eaten anything other than pizza or Rick Bayless's food? If not, you're missing out on a lot of great cuisine. It's a city of glorious steak, Polish food, Greek food, Italian food, ribs, and a cornucopia of other fabulous treats. I'd venture to say that when thinking of Chicago food many think of the annual Taste of Chicago, one of America's greatest food festivals.

                              1. re: ecustard

                                To say Chicago is (only) known for deep dish pizza is a bit like saying the Philippines is (only) known for balut. :)

                                1. re: ecustard

                                  one need not have been or doesn't have to go to chicago to have an impression of what food it's known for. and just because it's best known for it, doesn't mean it's the only good food they make. chicago's most popular and best known 'native' food is deep dish pizza - deal with it.

                                  and if my country is known the world over for balut, then so be it - doesn't mean it's the only food here. accordin g to bourdain or roast pig was the best he's ever had and still that's not all we have here yet if that's what we're known for, then so be it.

                                  "Sorry, but there are multitudes of people in the world..."

                                  yadda-yadda-yadda... chefjune put it better and than someone whose imagination leads them to type the word ABSURD.

                                  "Bayless may have chicago on the culinary map for his mexican food, but that's because the Mexicans (who have been in Chicago since before I was born--that would be '41) had and still have no pr for their food"

                                  1. re: epabella

                                    Wow. My use of one word seems to have struck a chord.

                                    Rick Bayless appears to be a talented chef and I don't denigrate that at all. But focusing Chicago's culinary reputation on him, and seemingly him alone, is simply not accurate. As my other post outlined, there's much to savor in Chi-town and most of the best are long-standing delights. Only one small part of it reflects a south-of-the border, or Bayless, influence. I am not alone in having visited Chicago countless times in the past 25 years without feeling any need to rush over to Rick's place, though no doubt some do. Count me among those who'd rather eat Mexican food in restaurants operated by Mexicans. They're all over America now. Popularity on television and through cookbooks doesn't make one anything other than a media icon. Chicago was no less of a food town before Mr. Bayless ever lit a stove there, and was well-known for plenty of it.