Rick Bayless’ Top Chef Masters Viewing Party

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Many of my friends hate watching cooking shows because they think if they can’t taste the food, what’s the point? Well Wednesday night I had the pleasure and the privilege of  tasting appetizers and drinks prepared by Rick Bayless’ team of chefs while watching the finale of Top Chef Masters WITH Rick Bayless at his very own Frontera Grill. Now, of course I watch plenty of cooking shows without all this amazing hullabaloo, but this memory will certainly take the cake! Er, ceviche. Yes, there was ceviche there, and lots of it.

Warning: If you haven’t watched the finale of Top Chef Masters yet, there are spoilers after the jump.

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Excuse me for a moment while I burst with excitement  and brag about meeting THE Rick Bayless on the night that he publicly became THE Top Chef Master. I can’t believe I sat face-to-face WITH Rick Bayless as we both watched the final episode for the first time. I got to hear his initial reactions through mutters  like “That’s all the cooking they showed?” or “That took me 5 hours!” in addition to the insider info he would share while standing atop the bar on a microphone during commercial breaks.

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For example, did you know that the three remaining chefs thought Hubert Keller was going to win? At the end of the 2.5-hour judge’s table, all three of them felt discouraged by one dish that did not go well but both Michael and Rick felt Hubert had it in the bag with his amazing “Baekeoffe”, Alsatian Lamb, Beef, Pork and Potato Stew. (You’re always so humble Rick Bayless…)

Note: Turn up your volume! It’s a little hard to hear, so here is a transcript: “I was totally shocked. If you want to know the truth, I think we all were, with what came out of that whole thing. And for me, the most exciting thing is to share it all with you right now, because I had forgotten about this stuff!”

In case you haven’t heard of Rick Bayless before Top Chef Masters, he is essentially responsible for bringing gourmet Mexican food to America. He owns two Mexican restaurants right here in Chicago (Frontera and Topolobampo), and has single-handedly changed the reputation of Mexican cuisine in this country.  Through studying various regions of Mexico extensively, Rick Bayless is constantly incorporating new ingredients and techniques from his findings into his restaurant and his cooking.

From roasted poblano salsas to 25-ingredient mole sauces, there is so much more to Mexican food than refried bean and cheese enchiladas. And unlike many mainstream Mexican chains or restaurants, Rick gets that; and he gets it right.

But more than that, he cares about where his food comes from. Even though he travels to Mexico a fair amount, the ingredients he uses in his restaurant come from local artisanal farmers and all his seafood comes from sustainable fisheries.

While Wednesday night was my first experience at Frontera Grill itself, I had been to Frontera Fresco (a more casual version of the restaurant) and had sampled Frontera products I had seen in grocery stores.  The restaurant itself was ornate with walls full of mosaic tiles, paintings and figurines from Mexico. I felt like I was in Rick Bayless’ own home with all of the trinkets and decor he brought back from his travels.

But more importantly, back to the food… Wednesday night was a step into expanding my own personal horizons in the way of Mexican cuisine.   From some of the most flavorful guacamole and salsas I’ve ever had to the most delicately-marinated ceviche, I felt like I got to taste Mexico at its finest. Everything Rick Bayless makes has this rich homey comforting flavor that your tastebuds just don’t want to let go of.  Just like Rick Bayless described the dish that made him first want to become a chef, “every snyapse in my brain went off” upon trying his food.

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Take these chorizo and plantain tarts for example. The smoky rich barbecuey chorizo against the sweetness of the plantains was probably the best combination of flavors I have ever tasted. Homey and rich, I took smaller bites just so the experience could last longer.

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Think you’ve got a great guacamole recipe? Well Rick Bayless probably has you beat. In fact, one of my favorite Rick Bayless Top Chef Masters moments was when Rick was chastised for making three different kinds of guacamole on one plate. He couldn’t believe it and doubted that his tasters appreciated a flavorful guacamole when they saw one. The very fact that he couldn’t choose just one guacamole exemplifies how dedicated and passionate he is about flavors, especially Mexican flavors.

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Also present at the viewing party were chicken taquitos topped with salsa verde and sour cream. Another delicious treat!

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Rick also puts a different ceviche on his Frontera Grill menu every month. And after this first experience with his ceviches, I want to try them all. At first glance, these nachos don’t seem like anything out of the ordinary. But take one bite and you’re met with a world of cool refreshing citrusy flavored seafood.

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And last but certainly not least: the best brownies I have ever tasted. When the waiter carried these brownies I thought it looked like an ordinary brownie but looking at the picture now, I can see that there are three layers. Three layers of intense delicious flavor. I’m not entirely sure but I think one of these layers has a caramel or dulce de leche of some sort. They’re incredibly sweet but in a good way. Who knew Rick Bayless was a master at desserts as well?

Overall, if you couldn’t tell – this was an experience I am incredibly grateful for.  The editors at Chew on That were honored to be invited to this event and I personally would like to thank the team behind www.root4rick.com for the opportunity.

For more insider bits from Rick Bayless himself, visit their website at www.root4rick.com. And of course, here are some extra pictures of Rick to enjoy:

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Rick taking a picture of his own viewing party.

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Rick passionately explaining the cooking on Top Chef Masters.

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“Hey, that’s me!”

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  • http://simplyscrumptiousfoodie.com Jessie

    very cool! looks like you had a such a great time, I wish I could have been there!

  • http://closetcooking.blogspot.com/ Kevin

    This sounds like it was a lot of fun!

  • http://www.biz319.wordpress.com Biz

    JEALOUS! I can’t believe you got to do that – how cool!

    I love Frontera Grill!!

  • http://aloshaskitchen.blogspot.com Melissa

    Still an avid Serious Eats reader and I just wanted to pop over from your post there to say congratulations – so happy for you to experience such a wonderful and delicious evening. Would have loved the ceviche. Cheers to you Hillary!

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