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Rick Bayless brings Mexico to the White House kitchen, by way of Chicago

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Charles Rex Arbogast/AP/File

(Read caption) Chef Rick Bayless poses at Frontera Grill, one of his Chicago restaurants. A favorite of the Obamas, Chef Bayless is cooking for Wednesday night's Mexico state dinner at the White House.

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How do you get to be the guest chef at a White House state dinner? Easy – run popular restaurants in the president’s home town.

That’s how Rick Bayless managed it, anyway. Mr. Bayless is the Chicago-based chef who tonight is cooking a Mexican-style dinner for President of Mexico Felipe Calderón at the White House. He (Bayless, not President Calderón) is the force behind Frontera Grill, Topolobambo, and other Windy City eateries that US President Barack Obama has enjoyed over the years.

It’s an unenviable task, really. Think about it – a US-born cook whipping up Mexican food for a powerful Mexican native. If President Obama went to Mexico, would they get the best US-style chef in the country to cook burgers and apple pie? It would be hard to top what Obama can get at home.

Not that Bayless is planning to serve tamales. His stuff is high-style: pork-and-fruit-stuffed chilies in white walnut sauce, slow-roasted Yucatecan pig, and the like.

He’s been mum on the menu, saying only that he’s making mole, the black chocolate-infused sauce often served with chicken. Of course, where home cooks would take an afternoon to make mole, he’s taking two days, and using 28 ingredients.


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