Friday, April 11, 2014

Chef Rick Bayless to Surrender the Chips and Salsa and Open a Modern Mexican Restaurant?

Chef Rick Bayless, feeling naked without the guacamole

During the Grand Cayman cookout back in January a rather giddy Rick Bayless was tight-lipped about a new concept he was working on which he called "a completely new concept that you've never seen before", as he told Eater(the original announcement was back in November of 2013), in the self-stimulating hyperbole we've come to expect from Bayless-- [there's]"virtually nothing like it in the United States." The Oklahoma native has been spending lots of time in the Modern Mexican restaurants of Mexico City and throughout the republic in the last couple of years, as opposed to the tourist friendly traditional restaurants he's favored in the past like El Bajio and El Cardenal

This will come as a shock to many Bayless devotees who for years have considered Baylesses' restaurants to be alta cocina (high cuisine), or Modern Mexican kitchens. This is due to the fact that few U.S. citizens have experienced Modern Mexican cuisine, including the ones who've traveled to Mexico City, preferring the mid-priced, commercial restaurants found in guide books like Contramar, Hacienda de Los Morales, or Cafe Tacuba. Bayless is exited about the advancements in Modern Mexican cuisine happening in Mexico right now, claiming that it "just emerged 5, 6, or 7 years ago"--once again, the anthropologist is way off--try about 18 years ago, Chef. Regardless, this will be the first real challenge for the most famous Chef cooking Mexican flavors in the U.S.

Modern Mexican cuisine has evolved ever since Chefs Benito Molina (Manzanilla), Alejandro Ruiz (Casa Oaxaca), Guillermo Beristáin (Pangea), and Enrique Olvera ( Pujol) opened their own restaurants in the mid to late 90's--Beristáin was the first chef to move away from the Frenchy cooking of the era to a 100% Mexican cuisine. Bayless said in his interview that the chefs had a European influence before instead of having their own thing, but that was true of the entire cooking world in the 90's outside of Ferran Adria's El Bulli, which would soon snatch the white tablecloth from under the French, altering culinary history forever.

Chefs learn from each other and share, trying to stay on the cutting edge--this was the case when Beristáin opened Pangea in 1998 (16 years ago, Bayless). By the beginning of the 2000's, Beristáin had removed all European influences and along with Olvera, became the 2 most important chefs in Modern Mexican cuisine. If you haven't dined at Pujol, or Pangea, you've not experience Modern Mexican. These 2 chefs became the most coveted staging kitchens for the current generation of younger Mexican chefs that have looked to Mexico to learn about cooking, like Valle de Guadalupe's Diego Hernandez, who started at Molina's Manzanilla, then worked at Pangea and Pujol before opening his own restaurants in Baja California. 

The current list of Modern Mexican restaurants is growing fast as these Mexican-trained chefs are in demand all over Mexico and abroad by restaurateurs like Ferran Adria--Mexicans were the 2nd largest group of stagiers at El Bulli--and now they are heading to work at Noma, while Redzepi and his crew are dashing back over to Oaxaca, Tlaxcala and Mexico City to learn more about Mexican gastronomy(especially about eating insects). In Chicago, they've always been about the guacamole, pork belly sopes, and margaritas in sleek, upscale settings.

Modern Mexican restaurants don't serve guacamole, but they use avocado--they don't serve margaritas, enchiladas, tamales, ceviches with mango, and carne asada. All of the Chicago chefs do traditional Mexican or Mexican flavors in stylish rooms, but they aren't doing Modern Mexican. Bayless has hinted at this shift with his Adventure menus and Collision Course cuisine tasting menus at Topplobampo. 

Modern Mexican uses the ingredients--there is lime, corn, chiles, avocados, and mole, but the chefs create dishes that capture the essence through the lessons learned at Pangea, Pujol, and the international kitchens of restaurants like El Bulli and Noma. Dishes vary from conceptual, to reinterpretations of traditional and popular cuisines, to the childhood experiences of the chefs--autobiographical dishes. Modern Mexican cuisine isn't to just make a tamal, or enchilada with farm raised chicken and put it on a rectangular plate. 

 In an interview this past January at the Cayman Cookout, Bayless took another opportunity to trivialize Mexican chefs like Enrique Olvera and even Noma's Redzepi--"Enrique Olvera is one that people look at a lot. He's jumped to another level, though. Now he's part of this other group that's an international group. That's all good. He was one of the first, a trailblazer and everything. But it's the same thing when you go to Copenhagen. It's not a René Redzepi town. There's amazing food that in my experience it's just as good as what you get in Noma and it's got its own perspective", said Bayless.  

You trivialize one of the founders of Modern Mexican cuisine--this coming from the guy who makes guacamole, gives tips on making Mexican lasagna, and wrote the ode to cornball entertaining, Fiesta at Rick's?  The truth is, the younger chefs are much more open to Bayless (Vallejo, who is mentioned by Bayless as his favorite, is a protege of Olvera) as a celebrity, and Beristáin and Olvera don't give him the time of day, neither does Redzepi--Bayless is not taken seriously in these circles. The younger guys dig Top Chef, though! 

"He's a trailblazer and everything?", that's a straight up what-EVER! the nerve on this guy.

Modern Mexican has already broken ground in Los Angeles, though, by Taco Maria's Carlos Salgado--the ONLY chef in the United States doing Modern Mexican. No--it's not in Chicago, and it's not coming from that baker from New York, Alex Stupak. 

When Bayless opens his Modern Mexican restaurant in the next 9 months, it will be 2 years after the opening of Taco Maria, and it will have to stand up to the measure of Modern Mexican cuisine in Mexico--no hiding behind the guacamole and jamaica margaritas.    


Anonymous said...

Only someone with an ongoing vendetta against Rick Bayless would interpret these remarks as trivializing one of the founders of modern Mexican cuisine.

streetgourmetla said...

Anonymous poster--Vendetta is a word you should look up. Bayless has done nothing personal to me to warrant any retaliation. To be this ignorant about the history of Modern Mexican, and to constantly blow off regional Mexican and Modern Mexican chefs is deliberate, and I'm commenting on it. As has SF media, and other markets where he's made these types of dismissive statements. Only an apologist or someone who's indifferent would NOT interpret them as trivializing.

Anonymous said...

One definition of vendetta- "a prolonged bitter quarrel with or campaign against someone". That's what I see. Let that grudge go. You nitpick his statements, looking for what you can twist into slights. I think any perceived insult is inadvertent and without malice on Bayless' part.

streetgourmetla said...

Anonymous--There's no quarrel; it's you that's nitpicking because this post isn't all about his comments about Olvera and Redzepi, but I'm glad I got you to read and look up And, for you to know exactly what both Bayless and I intend to write/say/mean is asinine--I don't pretend to know what he's thinking, but find his dismissals uncharacteristic of his chef peers, and disrespectful.

The fact that you're a repeat anonymous commenter on my posts, or posts mentioning me makes you a very special kind of hypocrite.

You're ignoring the fact that this behavior (Bayless dissing food scenes/personalities)has been reported in other publications, especially S.F. You have a problem with their responses? Anyways, other than you're uncanny insight into the mind of Bayless, do you have a point? If you're going to continue this chat--have the courtesy to post engage openly as yourself--stand up and be recognized for your beliefs, if you believe in them.

Anonymous said...

So far you've called me an apologist, indifferent, nitpicking, asinine and/or a hypocrite. The worst comment I've directed towards you is that you're carrying on a vendetta, yet you're accusing me of lacking courtesy. I really wasn't looking for a hostile debate.
The reason my original post was an anonymous was simple because I don't have a Google account. I don't often try to debate things on-line, it too often quickly devolves into invective.
I like your writing, I don't mean to create enemies. We just disagree on this particular subject.

Anonymous said...


streetgourmetla said...

Dear anonymous poster. You can ID yourself without an account--really--it keeps us both more polite. I meant the courtesy of an introduction.

If you're saying you don't see the problem--that would be a difference of opinion which is fine and welcome; saying I have a vendetta, when I said their isn't one is not the same. So, we just disagree on this. So, know that we are beginning to understand each other better--what do you think of the comments Bayless made in S.F. about their dining scene? And what he said about L.A.'s Mexican cuisine when he opened Red O?

DNO said...

I don't think Bayless' comments were malicious, whether about SF or LA. They do reflect a degree of unfamiliarity with what's going on in those cities. He is certainly a self-promoter, you don't achieve his degree of success without it. As someone once said, "Rick along with Diane Kennedy, has done a lot to educate Americans about authentic Mexican cuisine--that is to say that they've gone to Mexico, learned recipes and studied the techniques, and then published legitimate cookbooks." You know who.

I know a lot of chefs, both in the US and México. In general they are a collaborative, mutually supportive bunch. Unfortunately, I guess it's human nature, but the better I've gotten to know them, the more I've also seen the cliques, jealousies and backbiting occasionally lurking just beneath the surface. I don't like it but with a lot of big egos that'll happen. I just don't want to fan the flames (sorry, too many mixed metaphors).

Anyway, on-line discussions like this get tedious, they're much better done in person. I do appreciate the time you've taken to respond. Perhaps we'll meet sometime and I can advance my apologist agenda.

streetgourmetla said...

DNO--Yes, perhaps, it would be a pleasure.


great article!!!#chingon

Anonymous said...

"Can't we all just get along together." R. Bayless

streetgourmetla said...

Thanks, Arte + Gennaro!!

Anonymous--I'm jealous and envious of you. You're awesome!