Frontera Grill

When Rick and his wife Deann returned to Chicago from Mexico in 1987, they wanted to create a restaurant that reflected their experiences of vibrant Mexican culture and cuisine

 

And so, the Frontera Grill was born. We sat down with Rick in his iconic restaurant to find out more about his food philosophy and love of Mexico…

 

What trends do you see beyond the current ‘farm-to-table’ theme? What do you think the next ten years will bring?

Rick:
If I knew the answer, I would be the richest man in the world! I cannot answer that, except that ‘farm-to-table’ is no longer a trend? In Chicago, it is the accepted way chefs cook.

Now, people talk about influences from other cuisines. In our multicultural society it is easy to access the real cuisine of other countries. Chefs are cooking their own versions of dishes they grew up with, or dishes from their travels.

Every segment of restaurant culture is booming. We are living in a time when everyone understands food and the role it plays in their lives.

We know that Mexico is your major inspiration. Is there a particular region that has influenced you?

Rick:
Oaxaca in the south of Mexico. It is one of the poorest regions financially, but one of the richest in culture. If you draw a triangle from Mexico City to Oaxaca, across to Veracruz, and back to Mexico City, you have some of the richest cuisine in Mexico.

Puebla with its colonial style; Oaxaca is more indigenous; Veracruz has migration influences, Spain and the Caribbean particularly, and the Yucatan Peninsula has a unique cuisine.

Why do you think Chicago has become such a culinary treasure?

Rick:
Well, unlike L.A., which is always on to the next new thing, longevity is not a factor. New York is Euro-centric, with a lot of French and Italian cuisine. Here, there is openness: Hip enough to reflect dining trends, stable enough to stay in business forever, if you offer quality at a fair price. We have just celebrated 30 years here at Frontera Grill!

There are other factors: Great local agriculture, I couldn’t have said that 30 years ago! Chefs born and raised here know what a ‘liveable city’ this is. They may have travelled, but they come home to Chicago to put down roots and enrich our city. There is a good multicultural mix, with the opportunities that brings. And, of course, visitors come and taste our great food!

 

Frontera Grill
Evo Granite bowls delivered to Frontera Grill

For readers who may not know Rick Bayless, what do you want them to know about you?

Rick:
I lived in Mexico for a long time. In the States, Mexican food was mainly Tex-Mex and I wanted to introduce the real food of Mexico.

I was the first chef in Chicago to develop a robust local agricultural economy. We set up a foundation to give capital improvement grants to farmers and have given away more than $2 million in the last 12 years.

We are in the business of creating a community, not just selling food. Our staff love working here because we give back to the community. We are involved in a number of charities, for example, hunger relief and arts organisations. My main job is to bring joy to people. That’s what I do for a living. It is the greatest job in the world!

Knowing what you know now, what piece of advice would you give to an up-and-coming chef?

Rick:
You have to love the ‘daily-ness’ of the restaurant business. If you get into this business to become rich or famous, you are in the wrong business!

I eat at one of my restaurants every week and require my chefs to do the same. We are served like any regular customer to understand what they experience. I constantly revise what we do from our guests’ viewpoint.

Yes, I would say love the ‘daily-ness’ of it and eat your own food!