Celebrity chef Rick Bayless was on hand April 12 to speak with students, faculty and staff as the School of Culinary Arts honored him with Kendall College’s dedication of the “Great Chefs Kitchen.” The commercial kitchen lab that has served culinary students since the Riverworks campus’ opening in 2005 will bear Bayless’ name for the inaugural year of this new program that will annually honor a chef who has significantly influenced and shaped American foodways.
In the foodservice realm, Bayless, owner of Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Xoco and other well-known eateries in greater Chicago, is arguably America’s foremost expert on authentic regional Mexican cuisine. His PBS television series, “Mexico – One Plate at a Time,” along with his gourmet retail lines and award-winning cookbooks, have made Bayless a household name from coast to coast.
“In 1987, Rick started to change the landscape for restaurants in Chicago by demonstrating that Mexican cuisine is extraordinary—and not just tacos,” said Christopher Koetke, CEC, CCE, HAAC, vice president, Laureate International Universities Center of Excellence in Culinary Arts and the Kendall College School of Culinary Arts. “Beyond his award-winning restaurants, Rick has accomplished more than anyone else in the United States in introducing Americans to real Mexican cuisine.”
At the dedication ceremony, Bayless, who said he’s “just a person who loves the craft of cooking,” called Kendall culinary-arts students the “hope of our generation.” He added that he has always loved Kendall College for embracing the teaching of global cuisines in ways that culinary-arts programs elsewhere may not.
Encouraging students to reach for the stars in their careers and make a positive impact on society, Bayless recalled his first trip to Mexico when he was 14. “It changed my life,” he said. “The cuisine spoke to me. We can share our voices through food, which brings people together. So go wherever food leads you.”
Bayless has a longstanding relationship with Kendall College, including developing the Frontera Scholarship, launched in 2007—a full tuition scholarship to send a Mexican-American student living in Chicago to Kendall College to study the culinary arts. The 2013 scholarship recipient is third-year baking-and-pastry student Mareli Castellanos, who will accompany Bayless to Oaxaca in late June for a five-day immersion in Mexican baking and pastry arts.