Rick Bayless: An Oklahoma-Grown Hero
Oklahoma City native Rick Bayless has crossed the goal line with the pig skin. Of course, it came off a suckling pig marinated in an achiote-citrus based mix rather than a football. But the Sooner state is on its feet nonetheless.
Kids from Texas, California and occasionally Oklahoma who don a football uniform for our college football teams routinely are the topic of conversation, hero-worship, much fawning and praise. It’s a nice thing for the kids. Football is a nice escape from maudlin lives. It all works out. They move on to the NFL or normal lives, and we move on to the next crop. To quote Wooderson from “Dazed and Confused,” we get older and they stay the same age.
Nevertheless, once they wear a football jersey, their lives carry a certain level of interest forever, whether they end up with a bust in the Hall of Fame or just busted.
To earn the attention, respect and interest of this community from any other field is a tall order.
But master chef Rick Bayless has been filling tall orders since he was a teenager. While most of us went through high school ordering take out from rib joints, Rick was in the kitchen making the sauce. While most of us were bouncing through high school trying to make our first love connection, Rick was running a catering operation and working ahead to get through school in three years instead of four. When most of us turned 21, it was license to go on our first bar crawl. When Rick turned 21, he was starting grad school and, again, running a catering company. He’d been through plenty of heartbreak and disappointment by 21, but he never stopped reaching forward.
I’ve been a fan of Rick’s since 1987 when his first book, “Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking From the Heart of Mexico” was published.
I grew up in San Diego and Austin and was supported by a leather goods manufacturing business owned and operated by my parents but run by Mexican employees. The business began in Tijuana as a mail order holster supplier. It grew over time into a manufacturer for the U.S. military. I worked in the factory every summer, listening to Tejano music, ducking dried balls of contact cement and begging for food made by the wives of the men who worked for Cathey Enterprises.
I remember having dinner at our foreman’s house when I was 16, we ate without silverware that night.
“In Mexico, most people don’t have money for that sort of thing,” Alfredo told me. “Tortillas are our forks”
Then he showed me the art of the swipe: tear a tortilla into four, then using the thumb and forefinger pinch the wedge firm enough to slide into the beans, rice and pork/chicken/beef and lift. Presto, you have a bite-size taco. When the eating is done, you’ve not only finished all the food, you’ve also cleaned the plate.
I still have the first cookbook I ever bought, “Mexican Cookery” by Barbara Hansen. I was 12 and only had money for a paperback. The book tore in two at least 20 years ago, but I still have both halves and proudly use a number of recipes from it and a lot of the techniques today. I’ve thrown a gringofied Cinco de Mayo party every year, and that book is greatly responsible for it.
Then I bought a used copy of Diana Kennedy‘s “Recipes From the Regional Cooks of Mexico,” which was the perfect segue into Bayless. “Mexican Everyday” is more than a book title for me.
When Rick described his first experience with Oaxacan black mole, it reminded me of my first mole experience. I was 12. My parents and I ventured out one Monday night to a popular local Tex-Mex spot in Austin called Jorge’s. Little did we know, Jorge’s was closed Mondays. Just down the street was a new restaurant called Fonda San Miguel, which featured interior Mexican cuisine. They were opened Mondays and mole on the menu. At first, I wasn’t sure about it.
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