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Chef Rick Bayless is master of ceremonies for Oklahoma City graduation day

In a fitting bit of fate, chef Rick Bayless came home to oversee a charity event sure to put Oklahoma City on the culinary map.
by Dave Cathey Published: June 26, 2013

Sous chefs and student chefs stepped up and donated their sweat and precious weekend time to make sure the event came off. Tracy Zeeck of Bumbershoot Public Relations did the work of 10 people and kept her sense of humor to the end.

It was the sort of effort that reminds us how things can be when we all work together toward a common goal.

The man of the hour

After the applause died down and as dessert neared, Ward 6 City Councilwoman Meg Salyer presented Bayless a proclamation from the mayor's office that the day was Rick's. An emotional Bayless thanked his wife, Deann, and chef Jim Ortiz who accompanied him and were integral in the success of the event. He also took one more opportunity to shine a light on the professionalism and talent of Oklahoma City's dining community.

But Oklahoma City's chefs were only able to shine before such a large and enthusiastic audience because of the accomplishments of Bayless, whose road to celebrity is paved with accomplishments.

He is the author of eight cookbooks, with a ninth nearly completed, and the star of the long-running PBS series “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.” His Frontera products are international successes. The three restaurants he based the pop-ups on are among the most successful, not only in Chicago but across the country.

And the foundation for his success in the restaurant business was laid on the northeast corner of SW 25th and Western Avenue, where his parents owned and operated the Hickory House from 1949 to 1986. He grew up in the restaurant and was forever digging into the mise en place to present what would affectionately be called one of “little Ricky's creations.”

“I learned at an early age that no matter what I put together would be saved by covering with cheese and running it under the broiler,” he said. “Ironically, people in this country think of Mexican food as food that's buried under melted cheese, but the truth is in Mexico, there is almost nothing covered in melted cheese.”

His interest in Mexico started at an early age, ultimately inspiring him to book a family vacation to Mexico when he was barely a teenager. After graduation from Northwest Classen High School and the University of Oklahoma by age 20, Bayless was off to the University of Michigan to work on a doctorate in anthropological linguistics.

Bayless has said growing up in a family that took pride in being the gatekeeper of a regional cuisine like barbecue helped him gain appreciation for cultures defined by their food. And he found that in spades while living in Mexico for five years as a newlywed with Deann.

Sprinkle in the determination and dedication to doing things correctly he clearly gets from his mother, and you've got the formula for a celebrity chef.

Bayless arrived Sunday to join the OK Chefs Relief effort, breaking away early from a trip to the “Food and Wine” Classic in Aspen, Colo., and met chefs at both The Tasting Room and The Francis Tuttle School of Culinary Arts.

“The school of Francis Tuttle is among the most spectacular I've ever seen,” he said while we walked through the halls. “I just came from the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and it's quite a bit older, but they did just do some remodeling and upgrading but nothing like this.”

Bayless said Sunday he was inspired to come to the aid of the tornado-stricken communities by the first OK Chefs Relief effort over the Memorial Day weekend.

“As soon as I heard about the first event, I wanted to do something to help,” Bayless said.

And help he did. Bayless' celebrity and meticulous approach inspired his fans to donate enough to help the OK Chefs Relief fund to balloon to a total nearing $125,000.

Celebrity chefs Danny Bowien and Bayless have come home to inspire generosity and culinary artistry in the wake of deadly and devastating tornadoes. The chefs here have responded with an effort that someday will be looked upon not only as an inspiring act of charity but the foundation upon which Oklahoma City's culinary personality was formed.

Congratulations to those who were involved directly and those involved in maintaining a high level of food service in the market that made OK Chefs Relief possible.

by Dave Cathey
Food Editor
The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene.
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As soon as I heard about the first event, I wanted to do something to help.”

Chef Rick Bayless,


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