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Chef Rick Bayless: Reluctant Rock Star

A visitor to Macy's at Memorial City Mall last Wednesday would have been surprised at the more than 100 people -- many of them young women -- lined up in the Kitchen and Home area. Were the Jonas Brothers endorsing a line of tableware? No, but it was a rock star of sorts -- Chef Rick Bayless, hot off his recent win in the Top Chef Masters television series.

For those not familiar with Bayless, he's the chef/owner of Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, and XOCO in Chicago and specializes in modern interpretations of regional Mexican cuisine. He is the author of one of the most respected books on Mexican cuisine, Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico, and hosts the PBS television series Mexico: One Plate at a Time, now in its seventh season.

Obviously, Rick's a busy guy. Fortunately, he was not too busy to appear as part of Macy's Come Together tour of chefs and celebrities, benefiting local food banks around the US. For this event, all proceeds from the $10 entry fee benefited the Houston Food Bank. The 100-plus guests were treated to complimentary glasses of wine and a cooking demonstration of camarones con chimichurri mexicano, or grilled shrimp in a chimichurri sauce.

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After the demonstration, Chef Bayless bravely stepped out into the crowd of ravenous home chefs and food fans and took questions for more than 30 minutes. To what does he attribute the rise of "rock star" chefs? Somewhat taken aback by the question, Bayless remembered growing up during the rise of fast and frozen food, and said he believes that as a reaction to that, today's most prominent chefs communicate a true passion for ingredients and the art of cooking. Will he ever open a restaurant in Houston? Probably not -- he said he can't imagine owning a restaurant where he is not regularly in the kitchen; in fact, all his restaurants in Chicago are located next door to each other.

Bayless then sat down at a table and patiently signed books and autographs and took pictures with fans. A small buffet was set up for all, and after the event, Bayless dined at T'afia. The next morning he headed back to Chicago but called the Southbound Food radio show that afternoon to chat more with Houston fans.

Although Bayless may not be completely comfortable with the whole "rock star" chef phenomenon, he does know how to put on a great show.

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