Like any of the shoppers at Chicago's New Maxwell Street Market this Sunday morning, he prowls the stalls, picking over chiles, choosing the freshest bunch of cilantro, popping local apples into his brightly colored straw shopping bag. He stops at one stall for a champurrado, thick Mexican hot chocolate, which he ladles into a cup himself. At another he enjoys a taco de birria sprinkled with salsa from a plastic ketchup bottle.
Wherever he goes along this 12-block stretch of street market, proprietors greet him heartily in Spanish, and he answers just as enthusiastically, using the language's informal, familiar verb form. "¡Hola! ¿Qué tal? ¿Cómo estás?" he calls out.
As he turns away from one stall selling tortilla presses, a tall, thin Hispanic man throws out a grin. "You're Rick Bayless," the man says.
"Yes," says Bayless, discovered. He is no ordinary market-goer, for all his easy way with the people and the goods. He's a bona fide expert on Mexican food, author of four cookbooks, and winner of four prestigious James Beard awards. He is chef-owner of two of Chicago's most popular and well-reviewed restaurants, where people wait hours for a table and months for reservations. Today he is shadowed by a writer, a photographer, and two photo assistants, but he could just as easily be followed by a TV news crew or a filmmaking team.
"You like the Mexican culture," the grinning man says. "I watch you on television. I like your show."
Bayless grins back, clearly proud. Walking away, he says, "That's the best, when the Mexican guys say they like my show."