There’s a lot to enjoy about working here for all of us, but one of the special benefits of being the Steve-shaped cog in the Slice machine (aside from the capacity to point out on this blog that a pirate’s favorite car is the Toyota Yarrrrris) is that spending so much time accumulating information for the Pursuits section gives me a fairly good mental picture of what’s going on in the metro’s immediate future – which sometimes pays off in being able to take advantage of opportunities like this one: the Celebrity Chef event. St. Anthony has an impressive track record with the special guests at its annual heart-healthy live cooking session; previous stars have included Robert Irvine, Cat Cora, Giada de Laurentis (sorry I missed that one), Ingrid Hoffmann … but this year took the cake with Top Chef Masters winner, generally awesome-seeming guy and OKC native Rick Bayless.
We were two of the last people to trickle in to the St. Anthony Rapp Center, which left us seated waaaay up front, as close to the stage as could be – but in this case that was a lucky break, since it gave a better view of the chef’s actions as he demonstrated putting together a salsa of tomatoes, onions (white, not yellow), cilantro, avocado, lime juice, jalapenos and salt, interspersed with a running commentary on the steps of his process, context that he gained from trips to Mexico and helpful tips about not putting the limes in the juicer upside-down (you’ll spray delicious citrusy goodness into your eyes).
Bayless is a genuinely charming guy, relaxed and charismatic without yelling or muttering or straining too hard to draw laughs, though he did prompt several chuckles while rapping with the rapt Rapp audience – after walking us through the salsa, he opened the floor for questions and KFOR’s Scott Hines drifted around with a microphone while those of us without our hands up ate our way through the meal provided from Bayless’ recipes: a creamy shrimp and avocado tostada, a piece of chicken lacquered in a rich mole with a roasted beet salad and rice as accompaniment, followed by a slice of Impossible Cake (chocolate cake topped with caramel flan).
The questions came swiftly and smoothly and touched on a panoply of topics – Rick talked about his path to Mexican cuisine from a childhood spent in the kitchen of his parents’ south OKC barbecue restaurant through getting an anthropology B.A. at OU (and Ph.D. at Michigan); his passion for encouraging local agriculture; which herbs and spices grow well in the Oklahoma climate (cilantro’s something you want to keep multiple pots of indoors); his brother Skip’s total lack of interest in cuisine (he’s a respected sports journalist); what kind of knife Rick prefers (apparently Wusthof or Henckels are industry standard but OXO makes a surprisingly good low-cost alternative); the time his mother – who was in the audience – successfully made the fairly complicated Impossible Cake recipe on her first attempt; suggestions for beer and wine pairings with Mexican cuisine (Rick’s not a fan of Corona) … he even answered my unasked question about his uncanny knack for maintaining a ceaseless verbal patter without interrupting his culinary work; it turns out the secret is years of practice in front of a camera and live audiences while teaching cooking classes. That’s wisdom he imparted while encouraging a diner to follow her dreams of becoming a TV chef by working out what she can do uniquely and practicing until both the verbal and physical aspects are second nature.
The food was delicious, the production was impeccably smooth and the star made it a pleasure to hear him talk for an hour. Thanks to St. Anthony Heart & Vascular Institute for such an enjoyable event, and to chef Bayless for sharing the time with us.
STEVE GILL is unusually tall, has a B.A. in Letters and a minor in Classics from OU, drinks a great deal of coffee and openly delights in writing, editing and catching the occasional typo for Slice – especially since his dream career (millionaire layabout in a P.G. Wodehouse novel) is notoriously difficult to break into. He's probably trying to think of a joke about pirates right now.