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Top 9 Of '09 - No. 8: Rick Bayless Goes Supernova

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Dec 28, 2009 6:40PM

Today through Wednesday, we're counting down the top 9 stories of 2009 according to the Chicagoist staff.

Chicago is a city that has earned its reputation as a world-class dining destination. However, in a town where one can’t walk a block without passing a superstar chef, one of the most visible stood above all in 2009 with a multimedia blitz that made him arguably the most recognizable chef on the planet by the end of the year.

Rick Bayless’s reputation was already highly regarded by diners and fellow chefs even before he was announced as one of the contestants in Bravo’s Top Chef Masters. But the chance to compete for $100,000 for the charity of his choice and put his kitchen majicks to the test against such chefs as Hubert Keller, Wylie Dufrense, Anita Lo and Art Smith were an irresistible combination. Bayless’s eventual win (the prize money went to his Frontera Farmer Foundation) served to seal in stone his reputation as the nation’s (and Chicago’s) most important ambassador of Mexican cuisine, regardless of what Chicago Now’s Teresa Puente thinks.

Bayless reaped the whirlwind post-Top Chef Masters. The Masters win came within a couple weeks of the opening of XOCO, which only shone the spotlight even brighter upon Bayless. With requests for interviews and his time at a near-unmanageable level, Bayless took to an offbeat way to interact with fans and media, and further promote all things Frontera: Twitter. Bayless quickly became adept at using the text messaging service and was often spotted taking a few seconds away from the serving lines at each of his restaurants to update his status. By the time Chicago Gourmet came around in September Bayless’s standing-room-only cooking demonstration with Marcus Samuelsson served as a victory lap for an amazing year. Today, the wait for a table at any of Bayless's three restaurants now average three hours. It’s next to impossible to get a table at XOCO; Bayless’s loving tribute to the street food of Mexico.

Previously: No. 9 - Abbate Case Resolved