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National Restaurant Association - Bayless serves a commitment to community

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Bayless serves a commitment to community

Rick Bayless spent his childhood helping his family run their barbecue restaurant in Oklahoma, so it may seem surprising that he ended up finding fame and fortune as the chef-owner of Frontera Restaurants Inc., which specializes in authentic Mexican cuisine. But Bayless has been in love with Mexico and its cuisine since making a series of trips to the country, first as a youth and later while studying Spanish and Latin American culture in college.

Bayless and his wife Deann opened their first restaurant, Frontera Grill, in 1987 and have steeped themselves in their love of food and community ever since.

“I’m a lucky man for two reasons,” he says. “One is that I get to bring joy to people’s lives every day; the second is that I found someone to share a vision with.”

Since opening that first restaurant, Bayless, along with his fresh, authentic cuisine, have become staples of the Chicago restaurant scene ‑‑ and for supporting local farmers, artisans and aspiring chef-restaurateurs from the city’s low-income neighborhoods.

In 2003, determined to support small, family-run, organic farms in the Midwest, he started the Frontera Farmer Foundation. Each year, the foundation awards capital development grants to those farms. Since its inception, the foundation has distributed nearly $2 million in grant money as a way of encouraging increased access to and use of organic and locally grown produce at-Chicago-area restaurants.

“We’ve raised that $2 million just from the generosity of our guests,” he says, “because when you create community in a restaurant, people feel obliged to take care of each other.”

Besides his dedication to local growers, Bayless also established the Frontera Scholarship in 2007. The program provides Chicago’s Mexican-American students interested in restaurant industry careers with tuition to the Kendall College School of Culinary Arts.

In addition, Bayless, this year’s winner of our 2018 Thad and Alice Eure Ambassador of Hospitality Award, is in the midst of launching a culinary-training program for socio-economically challenged students at a food incubator in Chicago. The curriculum will focus on basic culinary skills and provide a pathway to internships with restaurant companies in the area.

The renowned celebrity chef says he strongly believes in the impact restaurants have on their communities. “To be involved in the restaurant community is to be involved in creating community ‑‑ within our restaurants and the communities we work in.”

Pictured, top right: Bayless at a National Restaurant Association Show culinary demonstration; Above: The celebrity chef accepts the 2018 Thad and Alice Eure Ambassador of Hospitality Award

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