Que Bueno! An Interview With Chef Rick Bayless

This celebrity chef dishes the details on sustainable cooking.

| March/April 2009

  • Chef Rick Bayless' newest restaurant will be built green and will offer organic food in biodegradable to-go boxes.
    Photography By Barry Rustin

Chef Rick Bayless has long studied the art of traditional, local and specialized cuisine. In the early 1980s, Bayless and his wife, Deann Groen Bayless, lived in Mexico, where they penned Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico (William Morrow and Company, 1987). After settling in Chicago, they opened Frontera Grill in 1987, followed in 1989 by Topolobampo and, in 2005 by Frontera Fresco—a food kiosk in Chicago’s historic Marshall Fields (now Macy’s) building. This spring, the chef-restaurateur and host of PBS’ Mexico –One Plate at a Time will open XOCO—a quick-service and take-out restaurant that serves his trademark fresh, organic Mexican cuisine. XOCO is designed to achieve Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program

What led you to focus on sustainability? 

We decided back in 1987 that investing in people, living in balance with the natural world and running our restaurants in fiscally responsible ways highlighted our values. We wanted to serve authentic Mexican dishes and leave less of a dent in the world. We began buying locally produced foods and recycling glass, aluminum and cardboard. Seven years ago, we started to recycle food waste as well. Now we create approximately a quarter of the waste generated by most restaurants. 

XOCO includes a grab-and-go menu. How will that be sustainable? 

I never wanted to offer take-out before because of the packaging waste. But we found biodegradable packaging that I’m comfortable with, and there’s demand for this type of high nutrition. Sustainability every day includes eating and living healthily, even when you’re on the go.  

How did broadening your goals to include social and environmental sustainability change the way you do business?

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