On the Road with Rick Bayless and Negra Modelo

The past couple years, I've been obsessed with Mexican food. Chef Rick Bayless provided the essential foundation for my education--thanks to his PBS television series, Mexico--One Plate at a Time, now in it's ninth year. His show reflects a life long love of learning...and teaching, unveiling the mysteries of Mexican cuisine, while providing essential on the road cultural context.

Rick's list of accomplishments is staggering (two full pages in my press packet!) In Chicago, he's got a got a stable full restaurants (Frontera Grill, Toplobampo, Xoco, Tortas Frontera, and Frontera Fresco). Frontera, his first, was launched in 1987. Between restaurant launches, he penned eight cookbooks, developed a line of Frontera salsas, sauces, and chips sold throughout the United States, and won awards and accolades too numerous to count.

When the invite arrived for a V.I.P. event with Negra Modelo beer and Rick Bayless, of course I went!

Both Rick and Seattle chef Tom Douglas are on the Macy's Culinary Council. (Remember this event with Tom?) It was a natural fit teaming up with Tom at his event space, the Palace Ballroom.

Check in: Check!

10:30 arrival time. Beer in hand minutes later, and perusing a copy of Rick's latest book, Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles, and Snacks. I was immediately struck by the format of this book. Nearly every cocktail includes a single drink recipe, and a with fiestas in mind, a large scale version. Snacks include DYI corn nuts. (First, soak the dried corn for three days...)

Beautiful, no? Those footed Negra Modelo glasses are designed to optimize the flavor of the beer. Just like variations to red and white wine glasses, this particular glass showcases Negra Modelo's signature characteristics, caramel sweetness, hints of dark chocolate and a smooth, medium body. For the beer geeks, "This Munich Dunkel (dark) style is characterized by its liberal use of roasted or toasted malts. The slow roasting of the malts alone makes the brewing process last twice as long as other beers, producing its signature reddish color and hint of sweetness."

Kicking off with a passed nosh: whole wheat gougers, eggplant tapenade and roasted tomatoes.

The roasted eggplant collapsed into a delectable spread, topped with a slow-roasted tomato half.

Chefs in the house: (L-R) Evan Desberg, sous chef at the Burgundian, and Matt Bonney, Director of Operations for Bottleworks, Brouwer's, and the Burgundian.

This dish, a staple on The Palace Kitchen's menu, was hauntingly delicious. Fortunately, I was also given the recipe. (See notes at the bottom.) Entertaining tip: I like the use of a beer bottle to give height and double as a name card holder.

A build-your-own taco bar included succulent Pacific Northwest salmon, baked with Tom's signature Rub with Love line.

"Hey, can I take a picture of your plate?" Starting at noon:
- Black Bean and Ham Hock Soup with Tomatillo-Avocado Salsa and Dungeness Crab
- Fresh Corn and Anaheim Chili Pancakes with Cojita Cheese
- Watermelon with Lime and Salt
- Salmon Tacos with Warm Corn Tortillas

Group shot with man of the hour, Chef Rick Bayless, in the middle. "Chef in the Hat" Theirry Rautureau on the floor cracking jokes and wrangling the group together.

At any event, I love watching the pro photographers in action. Out of camera range, there's another photographer on a ladder taking the official shot. This guy, was flown in from Chicago to capture the Rick Bayless/Negra Modelo tour. Nice gig, eh?

Poquito's restaurant operating owners, Matt Fundingsland and Dustin Watson. See Matt in the wheel chair and double leg braces? Yeah. He was at the beach, jumped off a log 4' high, landed on sand and broke both his heels.  Their restaurant, Poquitos hosted the Twitter #FoodieChats with Rick Bayless later that night. Check out the Twitter archives. Good stuff there.

Tom Douglas (Left) and Rick Bayless (Right) demo dishes. Tom covered the black bean soup and Rick presented pulled pork tacos. (Recipes below.)

On my way out, I spotted these guys. What caught my eye? The Mariner's baseball team logo on their chef jackets. Meet Safeco Field Executive Chef; David Dekker, C.C.C. (Left) and his Executive Sous Chef, Ryan Evans (Right). After this season wraps up ("Only 28 games left!"), Ryan is off to California. He'll be moving to the 49ers new stadium. Same title, bigger crowds--the Mariner's stadium hosts 45,000, the 49ers: 70,000. 

Hat tip to Negra Modelo, Rick Bayless, Tom Douglas, and their amazing PR teams. Good times, people. Good times!

Now, on with the recipes:

Tom Douglas' Black Bean and Ham Hock Soup with Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa

2 cups dried black beans, picked over and rinsed
12 cups (3 quarts) chicken stock| or more if needed
1 smoked ham hock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped onions
½ cups coarsely chopped carrots
½ cup coarsely chopped celery
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 cups drained canned chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons coriander seeds| toasted and ground
2 tablespoons cumin seed| toasted and ground
2 tablespoons paprika
¾ tablespoons cayenne| or to taste
3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice| or to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Place the beans in a large pot with the chicken stock and ham hock. Bring
to a simmer and cook until the beans are soft, about 2 hours (1 hour is the
beans have been pre-soaked).
2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a sauce pan over medium-low heat and
slowly cook the onions, carrots, and celery, stirring occasionally, until the
onions are golden and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the garlic for
the last few minutes of cooking. Add the onion mixture, tomatoes, tomato
paste, and ground spices to the simmering beans. Continue to simmer
until everything is very soft, about another hour. Pull out the ham hock and
remove the fat and skin. Pull all the lean meat off the bone, finely chop the
mean, and set aside. In a food processor or blender, coarsely puree the
beans in batches just enough to leave a little texture. Return the soup to
the pot and add the chopped meat. Season with the paprika, cayenne, lime
juice, salt, and black pepper. Just before serving, stir in the chopped
On the plate: Ladle the soup into the bowls and serve with dollops of the
salsa, sour cream and a few cilantro leaves. We also serve warm
cornbread with this soup.
A step ahead: You can make this soup a few days ahead and store it in
the refrigerator. To serve, reheat and stir in the cilantro.

Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa 
½ pound tomatillos (about 8)| husked and cut into quarters
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 ripe medium avocado| peeled, pitted, and cut into ¼ inch dice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

A step ahead: You can make this an hour or two ahead and store it, covered, in the refrigerator. Or you can make the salsa without the avocado up to a day ahead, refrigerate it, and stir in the diced avocado shortly before you are ready to serve.

Put the tomatillos in the bowl of a food processor and process until coarsely pureed. Pour the puree into a strainer set over a bowl and drain briefly, discarding the liquid. (The puree doesn't need to be completely dry.) Put the drained puree into a bowl and stir in the lime juice, cilantro, garlic, and avocado. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Rick Bayless' Smoky Pulled Pork Tacos with Roasted Tomatoes and Dark Beer 

2 cups Essential Quick-Cooked Tomato-Chipotle Sauce:
2 stemmed dried chipotle chiles| (or canned chipotle chiles en adobo)
4 garlic cloves| unpeeled
1 ½ pounds ripe tomatoes| (3 medium-large round or 8 to 12 plum)
3 tablespoons olive oil| or vegetable oil or rich-tasting pork lard
1 medium white onion| thinly sliced
½ cup chicken broth
½ cup dark beer| such as Negra Modelo
½ teaspoon black pepper| preferably freshly ground
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon| preferably freshly ground Mexican canela
1/8 teaspoon cloves| preferably freshly ground
½ teaspoon Salt| plus some for sprinkling on the pork
12 ounces pulled pork
Sprigs of cilantro or flat-leaf parsley| for garnish
12 warm corn tortillas| store-bought or homemade
½ cup grated Mexican queso anejo| or Romano or Parmesan

1. Tomato-Chipotle Sauce. Toast dried chiles on an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat, turning regularly and pressing flat with a spatula, until very aromatic, 30 seconds. In a small bowl, cover the chiles with hot water and let rehydrate 30 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure even soaking. Drain and discard the water. (Canned chiles need only be removed from their canning sauce.) While the chiles are soaking, roast the unpeeled garlic on the griddle or skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until soft (they will blacken in spots), about 15 minutes; cool and peel. Roast the tomatoes on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until blackened on one side, about 6 minutes, then flip and roast the
other side. Cool, then peel, collecting all the juices with the tomatoes. In a food processor or blender, puree the tomatoes, rehydrated or canned chiles and garlic. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a heavy, medium-size (2-to 3-quart) saucepan over medium-high. Add the puree and stir for about 5 minutes as it sears and thickens. Remove from the heat.
2. Simmer the sauce in a heavy, large (10- to 12-inch) skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and fry until nicely golden, about 10 minutes. Scrape in the tomato-chipotle sauce, stir in the broth, beer, black pepper, cinnamon and cloves, and simmer, uncovered, over medium-low for half an hour. Taste and season with salt.
3. Add the pork to the sauce and simmer, stirring to incorporate the sauce and meat together, for about 3 minutes, or until the meat is warmed through.Scoop into a serving bowl and sprinkle with the cilantro and cheese. Serve with the warm tortillas for making soft tacos.
Serves 4