Chicago’s humanitarian chef Rick Bayless has achieved what only one other chef has done before: earning the coveted “Outstanding Restaurant” award by the James Beard Foundation for his side-by-side restaurants

By Marla Horn Lazarus

Chef Rick Bayless

Visiting Mexico for the first time at 14 years old, Rick Bayless fell in love and said, “I got there and felt like I was home. Mexico became part of my life.” Fast-forward 30-plus years and you might know Bayless from winning the title of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters or his highly rated 12th season Public Television series, Mexico–One Plate at a Time.

An Undeniable Feat
Side by side, you will find Rick’s award-winning restaurants in Chicago. The casual Frontera Grill, founded in 1987 received the James Beard Foundation‘s Outstanding Restaurant award in 2007. Topolobampo, his fine dining restaurant, served its first meals in 1991, recently earned the James Beard Foundation’s award for Outstanding Restaurant in 2017. This unique accomplishment of award-winning, side-by-side restaurants has only been done by one other chef. From the first award to the most recent, Bayless said, “This is not common and well worth the 10 years of hard work. Different in spirit, but very similar in flavor, as their inspiration comes from the cuisines of central and southern Mexico. Being recognized by the Beard Foundation as standard bearers, we pride ourselves and are constantly reinventing, even though we have been around for 28 years.”

Giving From The Heart
Bayless has earned 7 James Beard Awards in various categories, as well as prestigious accolades, including Mexico’s official Order of the Aztec Eagle for his contributions to Mexican cuisine through his Chicago restaurants.  In 1998, he won Humanitarian of the Year by the James Beard Foundation, 2007 the Humanitarian of the Year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals and in 2016, the Julia Child Foundation Award, a prestigious honor to an individual who has made a profound and significant impact on the way America cooks, eats and drinks. “Humanitarian of the year awards mean everything because our restaurants are focused on trying to create communities,” Bayless said. “As a mission-driven restaurant, we want to do several different things, not the least of which to make our community a better place to live.” Creating a legacy and living it each day, he said, “I tell my staff that no one comes here because they’re hungry. They come to be transported to open their eyes and palates.” The Frontera Farmer Foundation, established in 2003, has awarded nearly 200 grants totaling nearly $2 million. “Without small sustainable farmers, great local cuisine is unreachable,” as told to International Opulence.

Face Value
Being a very transparent person, Bayless said, “I post all my passions on social media. I love to cook and entertain all the time. I’m a passionate yogi! I love to travel and I’m huge into theater. I basically document my life on social media.” Without realizing it, doing what he believes in, with his wife Deann by his side. Inspiration comes from the world. “The world’s such an amazing place,” he said. “I work mostly in the food side of things, but in my mind, I explore lots of different things.” A powerful quote has become Bayless’ motto as he approaches life miraculously living it to the fullest. “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle and the other is as though everything is a miracle.”
– Albert Einstein