Tag Archives: Rick Bayless

Los Surfos

Los Surfos photo archive

Here are many collected photos from the first 2 years of operation at the Chef Rick Bayless restaurants, Leña Brava and Cruz Blanca. They are grouped so as to offer a deeper appreciation of the Mexican fine art from the Bayless’ collection, currently on display at 900 W. Randolph St.  Spend enough time at this archive, and you will learn all about the artists who made them, their inspiration, and much more. Enjoy!

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 Cumbia de Los Surfos film

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFhvZBmmdU0

Feature length “cumbia-mentary” on the first 2 years of Chef Rick Bayless’ restaurants at 900 W. Randolph St., Chicago

Real talk: everybody who worked at 900 over the past 2 years has contributed to making something special. While the speed of life makes it challenging to find the time for reflection, please consider my amateur filmmaking an offering of 1 hour, 43 minutes. All of the staff deserve to feel proud for opening 2 amazing restaurants that will stand the test of time. The efforts put forth have compelled me to believe more than ever before, that anything is possible.” –Arturo La Cago

Watch the movie and celebrate 2 years of the people behind-the-scenes (Los Surfos) bringing to life the restaurants at 900 W. Randolph Street. This feature length cumbia documentary (cumbia-mentary?) is coming in hot… 

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Who are Los Surfos?

Los Surfos, a word meaning “surfers” in the Spanish language, here refers to the staff who worked during the first two years of operation (2016-2018) for the Chef Rick Bayless restaurants, Leña Brava and Cruz Blanca at 900 W. Randolph St. in Chicago. As for the meta-meaning, before I worked for Chef Rick Bayless (2011-2018), I worked for Chef Chris Schlesinger (2005-2011) in Cambridge, MA, at his restaurant, the East Coast Grill & Raw Bar, which centered around wood fire grilling and seafood. The map of the world with flames encircling the dark blue equatorial zone, pictured above, was the brunch menu cover for this restaurant, where I was the brunch captain. Amongst many positive attributes shared between these 2 amazing chefs, I am struck by their like-minded focus on staff education to achieve the best guest experience. And I was only employable in the first place due to the chefs’ joint promotion of an environment within their restaurants where people are allowed to shine by being themselves.

Anyway, back to the meta-meaning of Los Surfos. From what I have learned, Baja California Norte cuisine, is mostly unique amongst Mexican cuisine for its inclusion of ingredients from Asia, from which the region has received many migrants. It has also been called, “Baja Med,” due in part to the climatological synergy with the Mediterranean: hot days, cool nights, great wine-growing conditions.  One day while I was sitting in a staff education class about Baja cuisine taught by Leña Brava chef / San Diego native Stephen Sandoval, it all clicked in my mind. The old brunch menu cover map from the East Coast Grill highlighted regions of the world linked by cuisine that featured cooking with chile peppers. This equatorial region colonized by Mexico’s amazing chile pepper, is also where to find most of the world’s beaches most natural for surfing. Baja cuisine is kind of like a post-modern global-cuisine-conquering chile pepper surfer returning to its native Mexico, rediscovering the old truism, “You can’t go home again.”

In the restaurants opening, the staff shared daily updates on a now long-defunct private Facebook Group, set up to gel the communication and culture by sharing laughter. Many of the funny staff photos in the above archive, as well as the bonus video clips from the second hour of the cumbia-mentary, are from there. We called it Los Surfos: a digital meeting place for all of us surfing the big waves of Chef Rick’s newly opened restaurants at 900 Randolph.

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Hot Sauce Time Machine

Go back in time and have a look at some of the first Rick Bayless web content: mild, medium and spicy!

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Rabanitos Style

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The photoshoot I had helped with at Chef Alfonso’s restaurant, when I met the bruja, had been for the Chicago Tribune’s forthcoming review of 5 Rabanitos. I have learned not to get too excited about a restaurant’s first review: when a restaurant opens, that’s when there’s the most room for improvement. First reviews are notorious for nerfing any highlights with a few negatives. #thestruggleisreal, at the least.

5 rabanitos alfonso sotelo 3rdarm jamie sotelo pilsen mexican family owned restaurant 3rdarm arthur mullen

The Chicago Tribune, however, must have LOVED Chef Alfonso’s food at 5 Rabanitos because they published one of the most effusive restaurant reviews ever. The business started to pick up in a big way. Having shed most of my darkness, and with feelings taken root and starting to grow in my heart, I turned towards the shining: I decided to stay in Chicago with Raven Beauty, and lend a hand to my friend Chef Alfonso.

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Dos Urban Cantina

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Chef Jennifer Jones is one of my top all-time most loved former chefs: for her desserts, to be sure, don’t even get me started, and somehow even more for her positive attitude and calm, focused energy. We are talking about some of the best desserts on planet Earth… I am just underlining how amazing Chef Jennifer’s shining is, that her good energy tops her sweets in my book.

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When Chef Wil and I visited her restaurant, Dos Urban Cantina, for the first time (which she opened with her husband the legendary Chef Brian Enyart) we came bearing gifts: tomatoes fresh off the 40 foot vine, and Korean beer of course. The chefs were out on a date, their only night off together, and the kitchen and servers still went above and beyond for Chef Wil and I, even though they didn’t know us from different brands of Korean beer.

dos urban cantina logan square chicago mexican brian enyart jennifer jones arthur mullen sikil pak carnitas best chocolate cake ever tamal taquitos

The guacamole was just amazing, and their sikil pak (Yucatecan pumpkinseed spread) was fruity, nutty and satisfying… the star of the appetizers for me, which I can still taste if I close my eyes, was the chicharrones and French onion dip, a kind of dream snack for the late night stoner, crispy and rich. Other standouts included the juicy pork carnitas balanced by lime green broth of tomatillo and crispy taquitos of shrimp in spicy, acidic roasted tomato sauce.

dos urban cantina logan square chicago mexican brian enyart jennifer jones arthur mullen sikil pak carnitas best chocolate cake ever tamal

There was one savory item that brought me even more pleasure than the items listed above, all of which I want to eat again and am actively salivating over, just writing this. The best thing I had was their corn tamal. I have eaten A LOT of tamales in my life, and this one was so much better than anything I had eaten before it may as well have been Tamal #1. Smoky, spicy, so forward with the flavors of tomato, corn and fire, it erased the memories of all previous tamales like Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black with his pen thing.

dos urban cantina logan square chicago mexican brian enyart jennifer jones arthur mullen sikil pak carnitas best chocolate cake ever tamal

And guess what? All the savory goodness (a tough act to follow) was just setting the table for what was literally the best single piece of chocolate cake I have ever eaten in my life. I missed Chef Jennifer’s desserts so much I had to hold back from getting emotional at the table. From the beautiful decor (including so many milagros), flawless friendly service, to the food, oh man, the food… There was the sharp crack of the wooden bat as the ball was driven hard from home base, flying strongly upward, its trajectory carrying it high above the outfielders, beyond all lights of the ballpark, disappearing and gone into the endless night sky. Chefs Jennifer and Brian have crushed a homerun!

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The March of the Strandbeests

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Thanks to a large glass house (and Dutch technology) just outside Chicago, our restaurant was able to serve ripe locally grown tomatoes all winter. Chef Wil invited the managers and sous chefs to visit the facility, built and run by the company MightyVine. It must have been a tough weekend, because the only taker was this guy, former manager of Xoco.

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We took a pre-spring Monday drive deep into the farmlands of Illinois (3 tolls deep, to be specific.) Once arrived at MightyVine, we were greeted by Renee, who used to work as chef at Frontera Foods, and some of the partners. To protect the tomatoes from contaminants, we donned sterile clothing. Seeing that the last hat had been taken, I put a booty on my head.

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La Cumbia de Rambo

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless moon palace manager dinner glenn wang pork belly

Thank you Chef Rick and Deann (and Glenn) for the best manager dinner ever! Last night at the Moon Palace, my fortune cookie read, “The joyfulness of a man prolonged his ways.” Here is a link to the cumbia covers playlist I made for the party: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL-ImBY5VB4brjamfpOBQcoO4q2zQufA0s

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless moon palace manager dinner glenn wang pork belly

When I started taking the food photos, I had my nice camera but I was shooting on automatic. Our Facebook fans trolled my early menu change photos and it was embarrassing for all involved. Instead of giving up on me, Chef Rick and Deann paid for my photography classes. Chef mentored my eye for food photography from the first to the last photoshoot. THANK YOU CHEF AND DEANN for your patience, generosity and believing in me.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless moon palace manager dinner glenn wang pork belly

THANK YOU CHEFS for having me as your food photographer, for trusting me with the dishes your put so much hard work, creativity and passion into. For the rest of my life, when I put the camera to my eye and point down at the plate, my thoughts will be Chef’s lessons on how to tell the story of the food through photos. On the media team, we call it going into “Rick mode.”

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Bright Eyes / Open Heart

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless chicago sunset clouds skyline sky maria pacheco maria cotorra

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

For Maria, I have two pieces of advice on Xoco management. The first is to meditate on that Maya Angelou quote.

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The second may seem difficult or even downright impossible to do at times: try to keep an open heart. Whether it’s the inevitable stress and frustration of a hard service or the warm glow of accomplishment when guests have an awesome experience, allow yourself to really FEEL what you’re feeling.

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Life at Xoco moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. Chef Richard (my life coach) says friends don’t say goodbye. See you later!

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Alejandra

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless alejandra perez

One of the most amazing people I have met my second time around in Chicago is Alejandra. She is a smart woman with an awesome sense of humor and is appreciative of sarcasm (thank god!), a lover of animals, a responsible and hardworking colleague. Alejandra started working at Xoco a year before me (over 5 years ago!) When I gave 6 weeks notice that I would leaving my job and moving to California, she put in her notice too. It got a little crazy these past few weeks, doing my job and training, and I didn’t get to properly say goodbye or buy her a steak or anything, and so I had to write this post. See you later Alejandra, I’m going to miss you a lot!

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Churro Tower

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless churro tower

Mood Scale “Churro Tower” Edition: We got a fantastic review from Infatuation Chicago – and have been featured all week on their Instagram account. Please have a look! https://www.theinfatuation.com/chicago/reviews/xoco

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Mood Scale (My last RickBayless.com seasonal menu blog post edition): I have realized more than ever, in training Maria, that although I take great pride in the social media, there are so many more important things to manage in Xoco. THAT BEING SAID, I still like to think the blog posts got our guests and even our own team excited. Here is my last one: http://www.rickbayless.com/comfy-pantuflas/

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Get Lucky

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless chicago sunset clouds skyline sky

Tom Skilling Forecast: Wet Wednesday, flurries mixed with light drizzle.

Door: The all-day rain (knock on wood – at least wasn’t snow!) meant that web orders more than doubled in-house to-go. Looking out of the front pastry windows, it was like Xoco was going through a car wash for much of today. Our hosts, Nayeli and Miguel, were warm and extra welcoming for our dine-in guests who braved those conditions.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless chicago sunset clouds skyline sky

Service: Great day for service. Maria and I had an hour in the AM to go over training on ADP adjustments. We will have another pay period to review together before she is ready to take over. Tomorrow we will make a schedule together (which we will also get to do a second time) and put in the orders for to-go supplies (we will do this 4 times together!) Maria and I will be at the vision meeting (we have worked on the Xoco 2016 vision together with the chefs) tomorrow as well. With the slower pace, we went with a 6 person team (including hostess) in the AM, and again in the PM. One of those 6 was Guadalupe, on her first day on the floor she did a great job, not just with our customers and the sidework, but also I got about an hour of menu knowledge and testing with her and Giovanni tonight. They are both building on a great foundation of Xoco knowledge.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless chicago sunset clouds skyline sky

Guests: 3 Chicago police officers, including Officer Dan (check out our Facebook photo together!) Linda Berg. Older guest, friend of Linda (they ate at separate times.) Regular commuter from NYC. Kyle Patterson.

Mood Scale: This afternoon, while I was training with Maria on ADP, a guest called the HC about his web order. He was ordering for pick-up, planning on reheating the dish (ahogada) for dinner. We showed him how to order the meat and onions on the side, so that they did not sit on the bread until dinner time, and gave directions for reheating all the items separately. The guest really appreciated the extra care and instructions!

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Wide Open

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless chicago sunset clouds skyline sky

Tom Skilling Forecast: Mild weekend ahead, colder temps to follow.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless chicago sunset clouds skyline sky

Door: Much busier than the previous days this week: we really felt it with to-go during lunch, and dine-in during dinner. Nayeli was on top of greeting all guests with a smile, and handled some larger parties with grace during lunch. Jose showed us why he is the PM hosting ace, and delivered great hospitality throughout dinner.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless chicago sunset clouds skyline sky

Service: In our service meetings we reviewed the new menu with both AM and PM teams. Lupita and I trained on how to send menu change information to Roxanna. Guadalupe successfully completed all her new hire paperwork, and her penultimate training shift went really well. Guadalupe helped me restock beer and wine this evening, and I walked her through the chocolate-making process. I stressed how amazing it is to work at the only restaurant in the country making our own drinking chocolate, and how it is our challenge to tell that story in a fast-paced dialogue with many guests.

3rdarm roly poly cat maine coon cat arthur mullen chicago 3rdarm xoco manager rick bayless chicago sunset clouds skyline sky

Mood Scale “The Case of the Missing Guacamole” Edition: Earlier this week we got a Rickbayless.com email about a guest who ordered on the web, picked up their order, and it was missing their guacamole. We apologized, refunded them and let them know we would take care of their next order for guacamole on the house. I sent them a text they could show the chef or manager to receive their complimentary guac, and they texted back, “Arthur this was the nicest response. You have a great upstanding business you are running.” The guest came in tonight and I got to talk with them: they were just as sweet in person as in that text. Over the years there have been a few crazy customers I will never forget… but I will always remember, from too many moments large and small (like this,) that Xoco has the best, kindest, most loyal regular customers of any restaurant I’ve ever worked at.

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Moment of Zen: I was watching this new music video by the Chemical Brothers, for their song, “Wide Open,” and there are credits at the end. The third or fourth credit is for the post-production company, “The Mill,” who happen to be one of Xoco’s all-time biggest web order regulars! Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BC2dRkm8ATU

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