Quick bits with Chef Rick Bayless
Cameron University started as an agricultural college. Moving forward, how can we as a university keep our agricultural heritage and our ag program sustainable in modern times and during a tough economy?
What we have to do is realize that we are in an era where we have gone from pre-world-war approach to agriculture to a post-world-war two approach, which basically went to big agribusinesses and that sort of thing, and we have taught how to do that in the school very successfully. Now we’re realizing that that might not be the total answer, and we need to develop other ways of thinking about agriculture … That’s the way we developed as human beings, and what my encouragement would be to every agricultural program is to recognize that this is going to be something that is not going to go away and lead the pack in exploring how that can be integrated into a program.
Has it worked? Have you noticed customers appreciating what you’ve brought to the table at your restaurants?
We make good food; people come in because we make good food. Once you seduce somebody with something that is something delicious, they are completely open to hearing why it is so delicious, and we can tell our story about the farmers that grew the stuff for us, the way we learned how to make this dish in Mexico through some of our staff trips there, we can share so much more stuff with them, and then they want to come back because when they leave the restaurant they feel good about being there, what they are supporting, what they are eating; it is the whole package.
In the city of Lawton, as a community we have many fast food restaurants. Do you have any suggestions on how to get people in the community, college students, military personnel, away from the drive thrus and back into the kitchen?
It is a really big endeavor to try to get people to start making food for themselves. I say the first thing that you have to do is get some good food in your hands, and I’m really happy that I can say that the farmers-market era is fully upon us … We have to take it in baby steps. When I was a kid, everyone cooked all the time. I remember very vividly that going to one of the chain restaurants like McDonalds was a major ordeal for us and we would do it once or twice during the summer as a special thing for being off school, and now it is just what every body eats all the time. I think we have to start to tip it back in the other direction because it is better for our health if we are eating more fruits and vegetables, but we have to have better fruits and vegetables or no body is going to want to go back to it.
Are you seeing that kids, teenagers are getting more involved with cooking? Are shows like master chef junior and things like that, are they helping?
Food television has done wonders for the American public … All of the high school boys that I know love to cook, and they all feel much more comfortable doing it than ever before, and I think the reason they love it is because they watch the competition shows, they know food can be competitive, and it is okay for guys to cook. We’ve seen a huge change in the type of student that comes to culinary school because it is all of a sudden cool to do, and I think that is really wonderful.
What are some of those advantages to getting kids at a very young age cooking at home in the kitchen with sustainable ingredients?
You just teach kids what is the dangerous thing and you just help them understand the ramification of being around fire. I say that you have to start them off knowing how to make really basic things…I mean really actually making something from scratch…
If you make something, you want to share it with other people.
Make them [kids] part of the meal…
We have to invite kids from an early age to participate in cooking, so they are comfortable with the basic stuff. They don’t have to know how to do the fancy stuff.
How has your background in anthropology influenced your cooking and your efforts in sustainability?
You can look at any plate of food and it can tell you so much about the people who created it: it can tell you about where they are cooking, what they value, what kinds of things in the aesthetic world they love, and it can tell you a lot about their history. The more I traveled to Mexico and the longer I lived there, the more I understood that every plate was telling a full story, and I loved hearing those stories. When I came back from Mexico, I wanted to be able to tell stories too because I really believe that you can learn so much from people … Once you share food with somebody, you have a relationship to them than if they are just the other. Suddenly, we’ve all kind of become one because we all recognize that we have to have food to live, an we recognize that you nourish yourself in a different way than I nourish myself but for one this is good and for two you see the person in a new light.
The questions and answers in the Q&A occurred during the 20-minute press conference at 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 25 in the Buddy Green Room. The press, which included KSWO Channel 7, The Cameron Collegian and KCCU, took the floor to ask these questions to Chef Rick Bayless.
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