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In Pictures: Rick Bayless's Garden

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Jul 30, 2010 5:00PM

It's been said that chefs are the new rock stars. The most media savvy chefs, from Food Network mainstays to the chefs who are only known by one name, are successful because they sell their fans on a lifestyle: if you cook and entertain according to their guidelines, your life will be enriched. When a chef reaches the level of celebrity of Rick Bayless, with the tv show and the accolades and the endorsements and the cookbooks and the pop culture afterglow of being the first "Top Chef Master," a fawning cult of personality is certain to follow. At that level, like in politics, control of the message and the brand is paramount.

In that regard, Bayless was in his element Wednesday night in his Bucktown backyard, which he opened up for a media gathering ostensibly to promote his latest cookbook, Fiesta at Rick's. The book itself serves as a companion to the current season of his PBS series "Mexico: One Plate at a Time." Liberal amounts of Marisol, the Belgian golden ale Bayless brewed with Goose Island's Jared Rouben, flowed. The cherry atop this media cheesecake was watching Bayless do a live broadcast of his new radio show on Sirius/XM's Martha Stewart channel with guests Art Smith and Adam Seger. With food stations set up throughout the garden serving margaritas, beer and tacos,a paletas cart and guacamole station, and Frontera employees popping out from the lush verdant garden at the thought of a dirty plate or empty glass to whisk them away, it was the most seamless synergy of the Bayless brand I have ever seen. Although the clouds overhead were overcast, I would not have been surprised if Bayless's backyard had its own weather system.

But that garden is the end result of a man who knows what he wants and has the resources to achieve it. It made my attempts at planting tomato plants and training squash vines to wrap around a wrought iron fence seem even more feeble than they are. The pictures I took really don't do the garden justice. For a few moments, I allowed myself to get lost in its tempting beauty, if not the multi-level marketing campaign that surrounded it.

In the end, what separates Bayless from other chefs of his stature is his sincerity and passion, which he wears on the sleeve of a linen guayabera. Bayless still gets animated advocating the pleasures of Mexican cuisine, even as the calls for his time increase. With a larger platform to work from, it makes sense for him to capitalize on it while he can. Meanwhile, I may just opt to not mow the backyard this weekend, let the grass and weeds grow out and delude myself that it looks a little like Bayless's garden.