UP FRONT | Chatter
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“The spirit of giving … connects all of us during the holidays. So many people all across the country are helping out at soup kitchens, buying gifts for children in need or organizing food or clothing drives for their neighbors. And for all of us as Americans, regardless of our faith, those are values that can drive us to be better parents and friends, better neighbors and better citizens.” -President Barack Obama
More than 675,000 Oklahomans are at risk of going hungry every day; in this season of giving we urge you to consider donating a little money or time to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma (regionalfoodbank.org) or a community pantry near you. 18 SLICE // DECEMBER 2014
He’s a James Beard Award-winner and member of the Culinary Hall of Fame, and possibly the best-known proponent of Mexican cuisine … and though his famed eateries are in Chicago, Rick Bayless also happens to be from OKC. He recently made a quick trip back to town to host a demonstration and dinner benefiting, and presented by, the lavish School of Culinary Arts at Francis Tuttle. We stole a moment with the chef during the first of several seatings in the school’s attached restaurant District 21, and Bayless was full of praise for both elements, calling the School of Culinary Arts itself “an incredibly remarkable facility – everything you could want. It’s really, really, really nice.” He added, “Usually, the restaurants that go with these schools are pretty dreary places, [but] this is the nicest culinary school restaurant I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been in a lot of them. Actually, this is probably the best-equipped kitchen I’ve ever seen.” That’s probably not a knock on other restaurants as much as praise for all the amenities found in Francis Tuttle – from a chocolate laboratory to its nine separate teaching kitchens, its 30,000plus square feet of gleaming space are filled with top-of-the-line industrial gadgets. And as Bayless pointed out, “It is a huge thing for the city. Because when you have students that come out of programs like this, they’ll raise the bar for all local restaurants.” After assuring us that those of us who live in the metro aren’t the only ones who have noticed the growth and development of the local culinary scene – “How can you not? It is really remarkable, [and] there are people who talk about restaurants in Oklahoma City far and wide, so it’s not just Oklahoma City that sees this progress” – the chef elaborated a bit on why he chose Mexican food as the genre that would shape his career.
“I lived in Mexico for years and years, I went there when I was 14 and I just never wanted to come home. I loved being there, I wanted Mexico to be part of my life, so this is the way I incorporated that. It’s versatile in the sense that in summer you want it, in winter you want it; the cuisine can be super high-end, or it can just be simple, ‘We’re having a party, let’s put food out.’” The cuisine is clearly working for him – after his OKC appearance, he was heading to a 25th anniversary celebration for his Chicago restaurant Topolobampo – and success hasn’t spoiled his sense of humor: on being congratulated for the milestone, he immediately and with the barest hint of a grin replied, “Yes, I started it when I was 12.”
THE VOICE OF EXPERIENCE
A few tips Chef Bayless shared while whipping up a piquant pomegranate-studded guacamole during his cooking demonstration: • White and yellow onions are not the same thing and aren’t interchangeable without altering the taste of a recipe. • Crushing an herb in a mortar gives at least double the flavor of chopping it. • His favorite kinds of oil to cook with are either a good extra virgin olive oil or a safflower oil with a label approving it for high heat. • If Mexican food gives you an upset stomach, it’s likely because the onions weren’t washed after cutting; rinsing them with water or lime juice “deflames” them by removing sulfurous compounds. • Don’t wear white when working with pomegranates. Seeding them underwater is a good safety precaution but it’s still not worth the risk.
RICK BAYLESS PHOTO BY RACHEL BRYAN | FRANCIS TUTTLE
A CHIEF AMONG CHEFS