"I always liked charcoal," Bayless says as he shows off the oversize grill, a sight guaranteed to make men salivate. "But with Weber as a sponsor of our show, I had to learn gas grilling. Now I use it all the time when I'm in a hurry."
Pizza, Mexican-style, and hurry-up grilling aren't the esoteric subjects one learns in cooking school, but then again, Bayless didn't go to cooking school. He learned in restaurant kitchens, starting with his family's barbecue restaurant in Oklahoma City. His passion for Mexico was kindled by a visit when he was 14; Bayless studied Spanish in college, and after grad school, he began his Mexican cooking quest. During frequent visits and periods of residence in Mexico, Bayless has steeped himself in the culture and cooked with Mexican grandmothers and chefs. The mission continues with his and Deann's tradition of hosting annual tours for the staff of their restaurants, Topolobampo and Frontera Grill.
Now he views food with an exacting standard for authenticity and freshness, and also through the prism of real life. He grows arcane, pre-Columbian tomato varieties, and he's not afraid to get his hands in the dirt. He picks chiles and herbs for salsa, and - as he advises in his second cookbook, Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen - he sometimes uses it in quick meals like pizza, pork chops, and scalloped potatoes. Even his more compli-cated recipes are written with the begin- ner in mind. He's the antithesis of chefs whose restaurant recipes seem destined to make the home cook crazy.
"That's the way I cook at home," he says of the simple dishes in the front section of Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen, the subject of his second round of PBS episodes, which he'll shoot here in the fall. "Some chefs write these recipes that go on for pages and pages. ... You start one of them, and 45 minutes later, you're still making the little garnish. In restaurants, people are paid just to make that little garnish. They don't have to get dinner on the table."