By Bob Benenson and Jim Slama, FamilyFarmed
Chicago on Monday hosted the annual James Beard Foundation culinary awards ceremony for the first time, and Rick Bayless — one of the city’s most decorated and highest profile chefs — was frequently on the stage as one of the event’s co-chairmen.
He has a long-running public television show (Mexico: One Plate at a Time), won the Bravo network’s Top Chef Masters competition in 2009, and has written several cookbooks, including More Mexican Everyday, which was just released on April 27.Famed for popularizing regional Mexican cuisine in the city at his Frontera Grill and Topolobampo restaurants, Bayless won his first James Beard award — Best Chef Midwest — at the organization’s inaugural ceremony in 1991, and his most recent this year for Best Podcast (The Feed, which he co-hosts with Chicago food critic Steve Dolinsky). In between, he received James Beard medallions as National Chef of the Year in 1995 and Humanitarian of the Year in 1998, and Frontera Grill received the organization’s Outstanding Restaurant award in 2007.
Yet it is Bayless’ role as a pioneer in helping establish a market for local, sustainably produced — and delicious — food in the Chicago region that, to advocates of the Good Food movement, is one of his greatest lifetime achievements.