Nine Questions with Rick Bayless, Chef at Frontera Grill

From by Lani Furbank
Nine Questions with Rick Bayless, Chef at Frontera Grill

Food Tank, in partnership with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, is hosting the 1st Annual Chicago Food Tank Summit on November 16, 2016. 

This event will feature more than 40 different speakers from the food and agriculture field. Researchers, farmers, chefs, policymakers, government officials, and students will come together for interactive panels, networking, and delicious food, followed by a day of hands-on activities and opportunities for attendees.

Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Rick Bayless, chef at Frontera GrillToplobampo, and XOCO, who will be speaking at the summit.

Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?

Rick Bayless (RB): I grew up in a family restaurant business that didn’t have much of a connection to agriculture. Now, I couldn’t imagine being as good of a chef as I want to be without knowing a lot about agriculture. If you don’t know how stuff is raised, you can’t treat it properly in the kitchen.

FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?

RB: For everybody to start thinking locally and seasonally. If we can build a local food system that can actually supply a good amount of food that we eat, people will be so much more connected to it. When you don’t know where food comes from, it’s just a commodity.

FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?

RB: Where I live, it’s all about extending the season. People are learning how to grow in a winter climate that doesn’t support outside agriculture.

FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?

RB: I’m really taken with the folks at Nichols Farm and Orchard right now. They’ve been willing to grow from a small, boutique, family-run farm to a mid-size farm of about 400 acres that’s still family-run, with the same dedication to growing special crops for chefs and supplying stuff for us (Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, XOCO in Chicago) year-round.

They’ve grown in the all the right ways—ways that don’t compromise their abilities.

FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn't have to deal with?

RB: Our parents and grandparents didn’t have to deal with cheap commodity food that is ripped from the ground by using all kinds of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They understood food to be the natural thing that it is, and why it has the cost that it has.

Our grandparents also didn’t have to deal with any processed food. I think we’ve confused the world by processing food and extending it so it can be sold cheaply, and then reinforcing that extended product with flavorings and colorings. It’s just confusing everything.

FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?

RB: Clearer labeling on foods.

FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?

RB: Buying at a farmers’ market and subscribing to a CSA.

FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?

RB: It sort of comes back to labeling. I feel that if we put the burden on the people that are producing all of this modified food, rather than people making the real food, then suddenly everyone will recognize what they’re putting in their bodies, and I think that will make people more aware.

Right now, if you have something honest in the market, you have to shout it from the rooftop because the companies modifying their food don’t have to say a word. So then you have to say, “Look! They’re not really giving you what they say they’re giving you! They’re giving you the real deal!”

That’s a really hard position to be in.

FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?

RB: Labeling. Again, if we just had clearer labeling, everyone could make their own decisions.

To find out more about the event, see the full list of speakers, and purchase tickets, please click HERE. Interested participants who cannot join can also sign up for the live stream HERE.

To join us at Food Tank's São Paulo, Brazil, Summit in October 2016, please click HERE. To join us at Food Tank's Sacramento, CA, Summit September 22–23, 2016, please click HERE

Want to become a sponsor of the Food Tank Summit? Please click HERE

Want to suggest a speaker for one of the Summits? Please click HERE

Want to watch videos from previous Food Tank Summits? Please click HERE

Sponsors for this year's Food Tank Summit in Chicago include: Almond Board of California, Annie’s Inc., Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, Blue Apron, Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Clif Bar & Company, Driscoll's, Elevation Burger, Farmer’s Fridge, Food and Environment Reporting Network, Inter Press Service (IPS), Niman Ranch, and Organic Valley. More to be announced soon.

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