Eat Travel Rock

Kelly Rizzo

Dia De Los Muertos...Rick Bayless Style (2013)

I could barely contain my excitement when I received my invite to the Dia De Muertos event hosted by Negra Modelo.  First of all... everyone who knows me knows I'm OBSESSED with Mexican food.  It's my one consistent craving... a craving which I indulge far too often.  Second, Modelo, and Negra Modelo, in particular, are two of my favorite beers.  NOTHING is better than a delicious authentic taco and a crisp Mexican beer to wash it down.  I've even consumed this combo all over the US, all over Mexico, and even in the Domincan Republic.  Yet this perfect pairing of tacos and tamales with the complex Negra Modelo was made even sweeter because it was direct from super celebrity chef, Rick Bayless. Chef Bayless has become famous for his revered Chicago restaurants, Frontera GrillTopolobambo, and Xoco. He's even surpassed the "restauraneur" title and expanded his brand to include cook books, TV Shows, and his Frontera Foods line of salsas, and sauces.  The event was held at Kendall College and the entire event space was transformed into a gorgeous fall landscape with the mystical Mexican holiday, Dia De Los Muertos, taking center stage. Beautifully painted sugar skulls were everywhere and you actually felt as if you were experiencing this time honored tradition as it was meant to be.

Chef Bayless gave a very involved cooking demonstration that was filled not only with useful tip and recipes, but with stories and occurrences that were near and dear to his heart.  He gave us first hand information as to how Dia De Muertos is experienced and carried out among his friends all over small towns in Mexico.  What we learned was not cookie cutter manufactured info from a Mexican chain restaurant, but the intimate details of a deep and meaningful cultural tradition explained to us through Chicago's best Mexican culture and food liaison.

First he taught us how to "build" a basic salsa and guacamole.  He explained that once we knew the basics, that it's easy and fun to add on and improvise.  For his perfect salsa he started by roasting tomatillos and garlic under a broiler.   Mash it up together in a Molcajete, add chopped WHITE onion (Mexico doesn't even grow yellow onions!), cilantro, and chopped chilies, and salt.  So simple yet complex and delicious.  The guacamole is prepared in a similar way.  He mashes the avocados with a potato masher (he feels it should be called an "avocado masher"), seasons with salt and a HINT of lime, and adds jalepenos, white onion, and cilantro.  Then to spice it up even more and expand upon the classic recipe, he added Tomazula hot sauce (his go-to), crumbled queso cotija, and a ton of chopped chicharron!!!  It was an incredible demo because not only did we learn the basics of these integral mexican dishes, but we learned that even to put the unique Rick Bayless spin on it, isn't as complicated as we might have thought.  He gave very detailed instructions on where to locally purchase every common or distinctive item he used- for instance getting the Chicharron at Carnitas Don Pedro in Pilsen.

We were then invited to partake in the gorgeous buffet spread which showcased some of Rick's favorite authentic Mexican dishes.  My favorite, by far, was the corn tamale.  He described it in detail and said that the crema (fresh sour cream) he used was from a local farm that produced the most fresh and delicious cream he had EVER tasted.  He knew right away it would be the perfect compliment to his tamales.  I had to concur.  The entire dish was perfectly balanced with the fresh sweet corn as well as the tasty masa, the tang of the fresh crema, with the saltiness and spice of the queso cotija and the salsa roja.  I was going to go back for "seconds" (and probably "thirds) but the line was insanely long... clearly the word spread fast as to how incredible they were.

Actually meeting Chef Bayless is definitely a rite of passage for any Chicago foodie.  During our chat he was friendly yet soft spoken and he loved talking about Mexico, of course.  I mentioned to him how we have something in common as both of our shows (His- Mexico- One Plate and a Time, and Mine- Food Junkie: Chicago) are filmed and directed by the same director and crew! He seemed excited to discover this common thread and we discussed how amazing our crew is and how much we love working with them.  I just feel honored to have a strong link to this renowned chef and Chicago's very own super-star of Mexican cuisine.

Overall, the event was a blast and a huge success.  Let me tell ya, Negra Modelo really knows how to throw a party! And being able to drink the fine Mexican beer while eating some of the world's best Mexican food, WHILE hanging with Chef Rick Bayless really made it a night to remember... or should I say, Dia De Muertos to remember?! Buen Provecho todos!!!

*Compensation was provided by Crown Imports via Legacy Marketing Partners. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Crown Imports