Nine Questions with the Master of Mexican Food, Rick Bayless

Nine Questions with the Master of Mexican Food, Rick Bayless
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Nine Questions with the Master of Mexican Food, Rick Bayless

Rick Bayless shares another great way to use guacamole (hint: there is no need for tortilla chips) and what is next for Mexican food in America.

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What intrigued you most about Mexican cooking?

I first went to Mexico when I was 14, and I immediately felt like I was home. It wasn't just the food—it was the people, the culture and the fact that everything—the meals [and] the music—was so complex. That complexity is still the thing that gets me excited about Mexican food today.

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What are the most underrated flavor combinations?

Fruit in general is underutilized in savory dishes. People think of fruit as a dessert—something you churn into a sorbet or turn into a tart, but I've used apples, grapefruit and blackberries in guacamole, and I love the super-refreshing combination of tomatoes and melons in a salad.

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What spices would you recommend to the home cook?

I love cinnamon, and I am particularly attached to the Mexican version, canela. I love it in rice pudding and in hot chocolate, and also in less expected places, such as mixed with black pepper and vinegar for a marinade for chicken breasts.

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What advice do you have for the home cook looking to amp up guacamole?

Get out of the chip-and-dip mindset. Yes, guacamole is great with tortilla chips, but if you stir in some hearty add-ins, like grilled corn or bacon, it also makes a great bed for grilled shrimp or chicken.

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What is the most important thing to keep in mind when preparing Mexican food?

For Mexican food specifically, it's good to master a few techniques, like how to toast a chile properly (they get bitter if they burn). But really, learning how to balance flavors—sweet, spicy, acidic—is the most crucial skill for cooking any cuisine, be it Mexican, Italian, French or American.

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Who are you most excited to see at this year's NYCWFF, and more importantly, whose cuisine are you most excited to try?

I've been friends with Bobby Flay for years, and so I've eaten his food plenty of times, but I'm still excited to see what he'll make at the Tacos and Tequila event, because the guy always does something new. He doesn't quit.

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What chefs have inspired you? Why?

I was blown away by the food I tried during a recent trip to Peru. From the food chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino is putting out at the Pellegrino Top 50 spot Ámaz to sandwiches at La Lucha—that place has it all.

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What do you see in the future of Mexican food in this country? What trends are on the horizon?

Mexican food is turning a corner in this country. It's shedding its reputation as chip-and-dip food and being seen as the sophisticated, smart, forward-thinking cuisine it is. I just invited chefs like Alex Stupak and Jorge Vallejo to a conference here in Chicago called ModMex, and to see what they are doing—the new techniques they are applying to Mexican food—is inspiring. It's the kind of thing we've been doing at Topolo, too, and it's slowly getting recognized.

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How can people still make terrific Mexican food in the fall and winter when foods like tomatoes aren't at their peak?

At the restaurant we have a simple solution for the tomato problem: We sub in oven-dried tomatoes instead. It gives a slightly more intense tomato flavor, but since when is that a problem?

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Rick Bayless isn't just praised for his delicious meals or his innovative style; the star chef is actually credited for revolutionizing Mexican food in America. For this reason, we couldn't wait to hear what the chef had to say about his favorite flavors, the most important techniques in Mexican cooking and which celebrity chef he was most excited to see at this year's Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival presented by FOOD & WINE.

Check out the slideshow above to learn Rick Bayless's brilliant idea for guacamole (hint: there is no need for tortilla chips) and what he thinks is the future of Mexican food in America.

Want to meet Rick Bayless in person? Head to this year's NYCWFF from October 17-20!

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