Mexico: One Plate at a Time – An Interview With Chef Rick Bayless

Chef Rick Bayless takes WPT viewers inside the culinary wonders of Mexico on each episode of Mexico: One Plate at a Time, introducing us to the people creating marvelous traditional, rustic and modern dishes, sharing the delicious essence of the country’s cuisine and introducing techniques for home cooks to enjoy the fresh, bold flavors in their own kitchen.

We caught up with the James Beard Award-winning Chicago chef in advance of his show’s 11th season premiere 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24 on WPT.

Read our full Q&A about the places he visited in the new season, his favorite culinary discoveries, new techniques we can all use in our home kitchens, how social media is helping take viewers inside Bayless’ kitchen in new ways and some of the Wisconsin farmers who are helping provide fresh ingredients for his Chicago restaurants.

Tell us a bit about the places you visited in recording this season. Were there any particular things you were looking for on this journey?
This season is all about the Yucatán Peninsula. We tromped around cacao groves in the jungle, dined amongst the almost-Parisian splendor of Mérida, made lobster ceviche on a boat while fishing in the Sian Ka’an biosphere and so much more. We’ve been there before, but so much has changed.

What was your favorite new discovery?
There were some really, really great “off the beaten” path places in Riviera Maya. Everything from roadside stands to luxurious fine dining. More than anything, I hope visitors step out of their resorts and into the streets.

Your adventures always result in new approaches and techniques as you transfer the discoveries to the home kitchen. What new tip, technique or ingredient can you share from this season’s production?
Underground pit cooking is an essential part of Yucatecan culture. Most of us aren’t going to dig pits in our backyard, so we’re going to show viewers how to achieve similar results in smokers and grills.

As you continue to travel to Mexico and explore that country’s cuisine and traditions, what continues to excite you about this culinary exploration?
Mexico is a place with deeply rooted culinary traditions, yet there are so many chefs pushing the boundaries. They’re innovating, but it’s rooted in tradition. To me, that’s exciting.

Social media has taken viewers into your life in new ways – from the Taco Tuesday videos to on-site updates on the remote productions. What has been the best surprise for you about this new way to interact with fans?
That it’s so immediate shouldn’t be a surprise, but it’s crazy how fast information really spreads. Here’s a great example: While we were traveling around Mérida for the TV show, we were also making these fun behind-the-scenes videos and posting them the same day. People were jumping into the comments to say they were watching us film and sharing the videos with their friends. We even had a few people track us down based on tweets and Facebook posts. That was a little scary, but it was kind of cool how those videos generated a lot of excitement for the show.

(Watch one of Bayless’ Taco Tuesday videos below and explore his YouTube channel here.)

Just as we begin watching the new season, have you begun setting your sights on where you’ll go next?
To tell the truth, we haven’t set our sights on Season 12 yet. We just opened two new restaurants in Chicago (Leña Brava and Cruz Blanca), and have about 1 million other things planned for the rest of the year. But I do know this: I can’t wait to start filming again!

Your restaurants in Chicago always source ingredients from local growers and purveyors, which means there are often ingredients from here in Wisconsin on the menus. Do you have any recent examples from our state that have helped build the dishes in your kitchens?
Definitely! We’ve been using lots of tomatoes from Snug Haven farm in Belleville, and we are huge fans of their spinach. In fact, their spinach is so good that years ago we asked farmers Bill Warner and Judy Hageman to build a second hoop house to supply Frontera with spinach. We’re also using mushrooms from River Valley Ranch in Burlington.

Watch a behind the scenes segment from the last day of filming of the 11th season of Mexico: One Plate at a Time.

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