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

Chicago chef Rick Bayless is a Decoder favorite, and Wednesday night he'll feed Obama and Mexico President Felipe Calderón at a White House state dinner.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP/File
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.

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.

And he’s excited. Who wouldn’t be? “Heading into the WH for another full day of creation. Got my fingers crossed there are no hitches!,” Bayless tweeted this morning. (His tweets threatened to get him in trouble when the Chicago Sun-Times ran a story accusing him of violating White House communications policy by tweeting there. Bayless insists he's tweet-free at the first kitchen.)

Here at Decoder, Bayless recipes have been favorites for years. We acquired a review copy of his cookbook “Mexican Everday” in 2005 when it arrived in the office. It’s great, except for the fact that as a copy meant for reviewers it has no page numbers or index, so we have to leaf through the whole thing to find what we want.

We’re doing that right now. Here are three top Bayless creations that even two picky tween boys will eat:

Chicken a la Veracruzana Cut up four potatoes and put them in the bottom of a slow cooker. Layer on three pounds of skinned chicken legs and thighs. Mix up a medium can of diced tomatoes with canned jalapenos, garlic Worcestershire, thyme, cloves, cinnamon, and salt. Pour it over the chicken. Slow-cook for six hours.

Halibut in Green Sesame Pipian Puree two cups of store-bought salsa in a blender. Heat oil in large skillet, and then reduce puree to a tomato-paste-like consistency. Stir in a cup of chicken broth and three tablespoons of tahini. Simmer ten minutes. Then put in a cup of cooked peas and some boneless chicken, and cook until done. Yes, we know it says “halibut.” You can use that if you want. Our boys won’t eat it.

Chipotle Shrimp Blend a small can of diced tomatoes with 2 canned chipotle chilies and their sauce. Then heat oil in a large skillet and cook a couple of garlic cloves. Pour in the tomato mixture. Cook five minute, adding broth if necessary to get a tomato-sauce-like result. Add a pound of peeled shrimp. Cook about four minutes, and then top with chopped cilantro.

If you want more Rick Bayless recipes, click here.

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