When Rick Bayless isn't overseeing things at his famed Frontera Grill, he's often making dinner for friends in his North Side back yard. Here, the chef—whose outdoor kitchen appears on his show, Mexico: One Plate at a Time, on PBS—talks about the joys of entertaining alfresco.
"I've wanted this kitchen my whole adult life," he says.
Photography: Doug Freerksen
Describe your setup.
There's a really large area that we use as a bar: It's high enough that we can put stools around it. Underneath is a small refrigerator. Next to that is a two-compartment stainless steel sink; one side can be used to bury beer and wine under ice. Then there's a 48-inch gas grill by Weber and a sort of blast-furnace burner. It's like a wok burner, so it works well if you want to sauté something-or it goes down really low so I can just keep a pot of barbecue sauce simmering there. Next to that burner is another workspace and the woodburning oven-the prize in the whole thing. And then I went the whole nine yards and put running water out there, which makes it so nice because you can literally cook your whole meal outside.
What factors did you consider in designing your kitchen?
I didn't want it to be a long, straight line. All the energy flows out of anything that's in a long, straight line-and it looks like a stage set. My kitchen curves through the yard, and it makes you relax. It starts off with the area where people can congregate, where we can put stools and all that. Then it curves back in a horseshoe shape so that I can stand in that horseshoe, cooking and talking to people. It's a wonderful place to stand and be part of the action. In some ways the space kind of hugs you when you're standing out there, and it makes you feel really comfortable.
What's on the menu in the Bayless back yard?
I often do a simple marinated baked fish in the woodburning oven. I'll just take some herbs from our garden and lay them on a banana leaf and put the fish on top of that and put it in the really hot oven. The oven cooks it fast so it stays super-moist, and the herbs make a sort of perfumed bed for it to sit in. Then I'll do a simple salsa out of ingredients from the garden to put over it. And pizza is always my signature for the summertime. It's something that's interactive to make, because people can help put the toppings on before I bake it.