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Fire Man

Rick Bayless brings his expertise and passion for Mexican cuisine to Randolph Street.

Rick Bayless recently opened two restaurants on Randolph Street.

Randolph Street and its environs are, of course, already home to an honor roll of major Chicago chefs. That list got far more complete this spring, with the arrival of Cruz Blanca, a brewery featuring a DIY Oaxacan-influenced taqueria, and Leña Brava, a 75-seat seafood-oriented restaurant that will feature only wood-grilled food—the newest projects from the tireless Rick Bayless.

“They’re two completely different things, and they’re side by side—I guess we like side-by-side concepts, because that’s what we’ve done on Clark Street too,” Bayless says with a laugh, referring to his renowned restaurants Frontera Grill and Topolobampo.

Bayless’ new twin projects are an extension of his mastery and ambassadorship for Mexican cuisine—in this case, some of its roots. “We don’t even have a gas hookup in the kitchen,” he says. “I love cooking over live fire. It engages you so much more than cooking over gas. It’s like cooking as sport.”

The new spots on Randolph add to his ever-expanding roster of successes: In addition to his growing number of restaurants, Bayless has put out nine cookbooks and produced a TV show about Mexican cuisine that’s going into its 11th season. Despite this growth, the affable Bayless bristles at the idea of becoming known as a brand.

“For me, it’s just about doing what I love and being able to offer growth potential for all the people who work for me,” he says. “I don’t think about brands—I cook food and I share culture.”

Mezcal, Mexico City, Chicago theater, farmers markets

Bucktown traffic, taking pictures with iPads, quiet restaurants