WHEN IT COMES TO HIS FOOD, chef Rick Bayless has never taken the easy route at the expense of quality. He grows many of his own ingredients in a fourth-story rooftop garden shared by his three side-by-side Chicago restaurants — Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and Xoco. And before he constructed the rooftop garden, he grew them at home.
So it should come as no surprise to fans of Bayless’ Mexican cuisine that his new cookbook, Fiesta at Rick’s: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends (W. W. Norton & Company, $35), which he co-wrote with his wife, Deann, doesn’t cut any corners either.
“This book is not about quick, easy entertaining,” warns the two-time James Beard– award winner about his 352-page book and its 150 recipes. “I don’t believe in quick and easy entertaining.”
And Bayless certainly knows about keeping guests happy. His critically acclaimed Frontera Grill, which specializes in moles and hardwood-grilled steaks, has been wowing crowds for 23 years; his Topolobampo, a fine-dining Mexican destination, has been doing the same for 21. Those outings have been so successful that Bayless was able to branch out into cookbooks (Fiesta at Rick’s is his eighth), television (his PBS series, Mexico — One Plate at a Time, just wrapped its seventh season) and the prepared-food arena (his Frontera line, available at Whole Foods Market, includes tortilla chips, salsas and ceviche sauces). In the last year, Bayless has added two new eateries to his arsenal. The latest, Red O, a contemporary Mexican restaurant in LA, is his first venture outside the Windy City. And Xoco (slang for “little sister”), which he opened in December, is adjacent to his two Chicago mainstays and focuses on authentic Mexican street food such as tortas and churros.
In Fiesta at Rick’s, Bayless dedicates an entire section to accessible fare like that served at Xoco. He also includes drink recipes (can you say Tecate mojito?) as well as a variety of appetizer options, from the Mexican Beach- Style Shrimp Cocktail to the not one but seven different guacamole recipes. But Bayless also nails details outside the food-and-drink scope. His tropical party music playlist sets the tone for any festive get-together, while detailed party plans contain step-by-step instructions for throwing a successful bash.
As his empire continues to grow, Bayless makes time to travel across the border to Mexico to find inspiration for even more restaurants and recipes. “I just go there to eat and go to all of the markets,” he says. “People are so relaxed, and they want bright-tasting food.”
For a recipe from Fiesta at Rick’s: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends, click here.