I have waited and waited, patiently seven-eighths of the time.
After all these years, after a hundred and a half MexConnect columns about Mexico, most of them favorable, I have not yet been invited into the Order of the Aztec Eagle.
Past presidents of this colorful country could have done it with a wave of the magic wand. The present leader needs only speak the words – West next.
The Order of the Aztec Eagle is a distinction that only foreigners can receive, in recognition of services to the country or all of humanity. The prize comes in different shapes – collar, sash, medal, venera.
My qualifications? I am a foreigner, with a lasting appreciation for Mexico and a home on Lake Chapala, near Jocotepec, in the very interesting state of Jalisco. Taxes are paid. Our other pesos go into the economy. We try to be good neighbors because we have good neighbors all around.
OK, I hear your screams. I suppose it is debatable whether my considerable contributions are greater than the warmth and kindness I have received.
I must say Queen Elizabeth II was honored. I’m not sure what she has done beyond being born to royalty. King Juan Carlos I of Spain got the Aztec Eagle for, most likely, old times sake.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was recognized. I understand that. He prevented World War II from coming ashore.
Ted Kennedy? No clue.
Bill Gates? Yes, I suppose.
Paul David Hewson has an Eagle. You might know him as Bono. So, he sang on key. Mostly.
The Order of the Aztec Eagle has been awarded to Rick Bayless. Of course you know him. He was the champ of Top Chef Masters on Bravo TV, beating out the French and Italian with his authentic Mexican cuisine.
I applaud this choice. For years, I am told, Bayless has maintained one heck of a show, “Mexico, One Plate at a Time” on PBS. He has written a bunch of cookbooks far removed from Taco Bell. Two of his restaurants in Chicago, Frontera and Topolobampo, demonstrate night after night how really good is Mexican food.
If you go, take money.
Bayless is big time. In 2010, he answered the call to Washington to prepare the state dinner in honor of Mexico President Felipe Calderón. I wasn’t there but rumor has it that he offered Oregon Wagyu beef in Oaxacan black mole. You didn’t know that I knew Oregon Wagyu is make-believe Kobe.
I also know that the Wagyu and mole were good enough to get the attention of Barack Obama. The prez chose Topolobampo for dinner when in Chicago. Free food will draw a crowd.
The Aztec Eagle declaration certificate says the honor to Rick was because of his “important work” in promoting and disseminating one of the most internationally recognized cultural expressions of Mexico, cooking.
It says Rick “revealed the variety and sophistication” of Mexican chow, changing its image from tacos to gastronomy.
Right about here, a disclaimer is in order. Skip Bayless, ESPN personality, former sports columnist, is Rick’s brother. Without Skip, I might have missed Rick. I do not do Mexican restaurants in Chicago and I do not watch cooking shows on TV.
I found out what I was supposed to already know. The Bayless boys came from a restaurant family in Oklahoma City. Their parents operated Hickory House Barbecue. Rick was a student Thespian. He considered an acting career while at the University of Oklahoma.
He made the right choice. He earned recognition. He developed Mexico expertise by travelling widely and getting to know regional dishes. He obviously told the story with a flare. He has the Order of the Aztec Eagle as proof.
Rick Bayless is far more than a TV chef, cookbook author and wealthy owner of restaurants. He does dinner theater stage production. He can sing and dance. He does yoga. He is a great gardener. He is legendary as a party host.
You want real background? Rick’s grandmother taught him to cook. Her philosophy was food brings love and family together. Her peach pie was a favorite. A Julia Child cookbook baited the trap. Rick says he grew up idolizing her. He used the term “star-struck.”
Favorite snack? Doughnuts.
Perhaps you have concluded why Bayless has an Eagle and I don’t. I admit I can’t dance. I don’t do yoga and I still believe doughnuts are fattening.