To mark the 30th anniversary of his beloved Frontera Grill, Chef Rick Bayless partnered with FamilyFarmed to throw a Good Food party featuring food from renowned Chicago chefs like Jason Hammel of Lula Café, Stephanie Izard of Girl & The Goat, Matthias Merges of Yuzo, Abe Conlon and Adrienne Lo of Fat Rice, Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate, and others. Held in Griffin Court in the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing, the event was essentially as a precursor to the James Beard Foundation Awards the following day.
The evening kicked off with a short speech by Bayless, followed by an elite panel presentation discussing the transformation of our nation’s food system with culinary luminaries including Chicago’s Paul Kahan and Washington D.C.’s Nora Pouillon.
During his talk, Bayless recalled the early days of Frontera 30 years ago, when the now glamorized River North neighborhood “was a bit seedy” and “bleak by today’s standards,” as he and his staff had to contend with underground brothels and intoxicated locals passed out in the doorway.
He also recalled those days when local food just wasn’t available. Now, he can get pasture-raised chickens from Slagel Farms, fresh, hoop house spinach from the ground just miles away and more with little effort. And it took connecting and working with farmers and other chefs—in part through the early farmers markets in Chicago and later, the Green City Market—over the many years to get there.
“They taught us all kinds of lessons along the way and how to work in an organic method and how much effort they put in their growing systems—they taught me the greatest life lessons I think a chef can ever learn,” he says.
“Delicious is the underscore of it all,” Bayless said in closing. “Delicious is the thing that cuts right to our hearts. Delicious is the thing that animates us. Delicious is the thing that wants us to go that extra mile. One of the things we can say right now over the last 30 years Chicago has become a much more delicious place to be.”
During the panel, Kahan paid homage to Rick and Deanne Bayless for their mentorship as a former employee and remembered fondly his time at Frontera Grill when he was able to “see all this incredible product coming through the door everyday.”
“But as much as Rick mentored me what I’m most proud of is running a company of 10 businesses at present and more to come is thinking about sustainability in ever way—including how we treat people, but also looking how we’re treating the land and our waste and looking at every aspect of our business,” he said.
For two hours following the auditorium-style presentation, attendees were treated to different dishes prepared by the featured chefs, paired with strong margaritas, champagne and more.
The event was a joint effort of Chef Rick Bayless’ Frontera Farmer Foundation, which has made nearly $2 million in grants to Midwestern local farmers since 2003, and FamilyFarmed, a nonprofit that works with farm and food entrepreneurs to build the market for delicious, healthy, locally and sustainably produced food.
“We couldn’t just let this occasion go by without some major fanfare,” said Bayless. “And we thought it was only appropriate that we use this time to give back even more to the farmers who have dedicated their lives, and risked their livelihoods, to put food on our tables.”
Proceeds from the event benefited both Frontera Farmer Foundation and FamilyFarmed.
“Our shared values for a better food system and Good Food on Every Table make Rick Bayless’ Frontera Farmer Foundation and FamilyFarmed perfect philanthropic partners,” said Jim Slama, president and founder of FamilyFarmed. “The Frontera 30th Anniversary Celebration will generate tremendous new resources to help small farms and food entrepreneurs flourish throughout the Chicago region.”