Scene change to the Bayless kitchen, a warm, functional, comfortable arrangement of soapstone, knotty pine, and the stainless steel of a commercial-grade stove. Ibrahim Ferrer, the Cuban musician, croons "Dos Gardenias" on the stereo, his airy voice floating up to the tops of cabinets where a profusion of pottery adds color to the picture. Down below on the kitchen island, a lacquered wood tray from the Mexican state of Guerrero holds salt cellar, olive oil, pepper grinder. A traditional Mexican chocolate-beater, carved of wood, is a sculpture in a bouquet of paddles, spoons, and whisks standing in a crock.

In the middle of it all is Bayless. Cooking, of course. He talks while he cooks, and as befits a professional, his movements are measured and calm, precise. He cooks potatoes, sautés apples, and makes a chile sauce at the same time, and all the while he talks about an astoundingly wide range of subjects. Sustainable agriculture, racism, the use of steady-cams in film production, organic gardening, recipe-testing, socially respon-sible business, his daughter, yoga, the importance of vacations, politics, Cuban music, and writing. Occasionally he consults Mexico: One Plate at a Time. Curious, I follow him to look at the book, and a cover blurb catches my eye. In the middle of Bayless' erudite conversation and deft cooking, it seems completely fitting: "Rick Bayless is like the hero of some never-made Saturday morning cartoon for adults: cultural anthropologist by day, top flight chef at night," opines Ira Glass, host of Public Radio International's This American Life. "I hope in his next book, he also starts solving crimes and playing in a pop band. That's all his protagonist needs to make the jump from PBS to HBO," Glass adds.

What Glass doesn't mention is that Bayless spends a sizable hunk of his time teaching, not to mention evangelizing. The PBS show, and all his cookbooks for that matter, mix a little of both. He spreads the word about Mexican culture and cuisine with the zeal of a revival preacher, and he educates his audience on everything from the finer points of choosing chiles to the best method for steam-heating tortillas. He tries to get his viewers and readers to practice, to grow comfortable enough in the Mexican oeuvre to improvise.