The Interview: Rick Bayless

Television’s master of Mexican cooking talks about travel and food.

By Nell McShane Wulfhart | Illustration by Kirsten Ulve

The chef and star of Mexico: One Plate at a Time on PBS has restaurants everywhere, from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to Disney SpringsTM in Orlando. Here, he dishes about food and his travels.

Where in Mexico do you return time and again?

Mexico City is one of my favorites, for its vibrancy and complexity, and because you can find all the regional cuisines of Mexico represented there. I love seeing how people cope with life in a big city. The flip side of that, because it’s a smallish town, is Oaxaca. It probably has the richest cuisine in all of Mexico in terms of diversity and complexity. I’d say it’s my favorite city for food.

What do you most enjoy doing while there?

There’s a famous place in Oaxaca called “smoke alley” that is part of the downtown market. It’s lined with comedores (food stalls) selling grilled meats, knob onions and chilies. You can peruse the smoky selections and fill up a platter to eat at a picnic table. People come by with condiments and the best tortillas in the whole world, and you make your own delicious taco. There’s no silverware; it’s very rustic. That’s something I do every single time I go to Oaxaca because the food and the experience are both amazing.

When you’re on vacation, do you sample local restaurants or shop at the markets and cook where you’re staying?

I don’t cook a whole lot unless I’ve planned it as part of my vacation. What I try to do everywhere I go—although nobody believes me—is take cooking classes. Often it’ll be with a chef or someone I know, but sometimes I’ll attend cooking classes that are for regular people. I try not to intimidate anybody.

What’s your favorite recipe that you’ve made on air?

Because I thought people could latch on to it pretty quickly, in the beginning I would always try to make chilaquiles, fried tortillas in salsa that are like soul food for me and for so many people in Mexico. That’s a thing I go back to pretty regularly, because once people taste a good one, they’re hooked!

On long plane journeys, do you pack a snack or eat on board?

I’m a big believer in nuts and dried fruit, so I always have some of that in my backpack. When I’m leaving a destination, I’ll buy something that will extend my vacation a little bit. Coming back from France one time, I had the opportunity to buy an array of charcuterie and cheeses and a good loaf of bread for the flight home. It was one of the greatest meals of the whole trip.

  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Fall 2017