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Chef Rick Bayless Plays Not My Job

Rick Bayless
Courtesy Frontera Grill

Twenty-five years ago, a guy from Oklahoma opened a restaurant in Chicago that served Mexican food — and since then, things have gone pretty well for him. Rick Bayless is now an award-winning celebrity chef, a best-selling author, star of his own TV show, and a Top Chef Masters Champion. Soon, he'll be making his stage debut as an actor.

We've invited Bayless to answer three questions about Dr. Seuss, who would have celebrated his 108th birthday this week.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

And now, the game where we invite really interesting people on to ask them about things they're simply not interested in.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Twenty-five years ago, a guy from Oklahoma opened a restaurant in Chicago, serving food from Mexico. This surprisingly turned out to be a fantastically good idea.

Today, Rick Bayless is a multi-award-winning celebrity chef, a best selling author of cookbooks and star of his own TV show. He's a Top Chef Masters champion. I'm not done yet. Next month, he's going to throw it all away to go be a stage actor. Rick Bayless, welcome back to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! Great to have you.

RICK BAYLESS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

BAYLESS: Thank you very much, Peter.

SAGAL: So I realize it is not unusual for people in the food service industry to want to go be an actor. Usually they're, though, the waiters, not the owners of the restaurant though.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BAYLESS: Yes, this is a little different.

SAGAL: So just to set this up, after everything you've done, the restaurants here in Chicago and the cookbooks and the TV show, you are going to go star in our own theatrical production this spring.

BAYLESS: Well, I'm creating one.

SAGAL: Yes.

BAYLESS: I'm creating one with a couple of other people at Looking Glass Theater Company. And we are - well, I think the best way to describe this is we're going to do something that's like "Midsummer Night's Dream" with a meal. So it's all about food being magic and you get to ingest it and see what happens to you.

SAGAL: So you're actually...

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TOM BODETT: After you...

SAGAL: I usually have that experience at less quality Mexican restaurants.

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SAGAL: Not something I associate with you. So you're having theater with a dinner.

BAYLESS: I don't like where this is going.

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SAGAL: No, you may have stumbled upon something here.

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SAGAL: The idea is so this is a play. You're in the play.

BAYLESS: I'm in the play.

SAGAL: You're performing in the play.

BAYLESS: And I'm making the food.

SAGAL: You're making the food in the play. So there's the play that's going on and you're playing a chef in the play.

BAYLESS: Yes.

SAGAL: And you're actually cooking food which you're serving to the audience.

BAYLESS: Exactly. It's set in a boarding house, so it sort of makes sense, because everybody is seated at boarding house tables, the entire audience.

SAGAL: Right.

BAYLESS: And the actors.

SAGAL: What is the play about? Is it about the meal?

BAYLESS: It's about the meal. It's about - well I'm going to say - this is going to sound kind of crazy but it's about like when you eat something and it just has this amazing effect on you. Like you all of the sudden see the world in a slightly different way. And, you know, it also, in that sort of "Midsummer Night's Dream" kind of thing, involves circus performers.

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AMY DICKINSON: Oh boy.

SAGAL: So you bring out a little covered dish and five clowns jump out?

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BAYLESS: You know, I'm going to steal that.

SAGAL: By all means. So, are you hoping that this, like, becomes a long running thing, it'll become like the "Cats" of eating?

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BAYLESS: That sounds like the little dishes around or something like that that people are...

BODETT: Friskies.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BAYLESS: Here, have a little more milk.

SAGAL: And you're doing this in the midst of all these other things. You have a new season of your TV show.

BAYLESS: Yes.

SAGAL: Mexico on plate at a time.

BAYLESS: Wholly focused on Baja, California, one of the most amazing places on the planet.

SAGAL: Right. Did you go down to Cabo?

BAYLESS: Yes, we went down to Cabo.

SAGAL: Because I've been to Cabo San Lucas. Cabo San Lucas is an interesting place. It's basically southern California except you can get Viagra without a prescription. Don't ask me how I know that.

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BAYLESS: How do you know that, Peter?

SAGAL: I just noticed a sign in the window as I was walking by.

BAYLESS: Yeah.

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SAGAL: To some more authentic Mexican experience.

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DICKINSON: I'm imaging that.

BAYLESS: Yeah, uh-huh. And what is the most...

BRIAN BABYLON: Was that that donkey show?

SAGAL: Yeah, no. That's Tijuana.

DICKINSON: Donkey...

SAGAL: Your great innovation 25 years ago and going strong was to show to Chicago and America, eventually the world, that Mexican cuisine can be very, very good. But surprisingly, despite your best efforts, you have not yet killed Taco Bell.

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BAYLESS: No. No, I think they're going stronger than ever.

SAGAL: Well, and this is why, because they have a level of innovation that I'm not sure that you, sir, can match.

BAYLESS: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So we have actually looked at the latest Taco Bell menu and we want to see...

DICKINSON: Ohh...

SAGAL: I just want to throw these things at you and see if you have a response. For example...

BAYLESS: Yes.

SAGAL: This is why they're winning.

BAYLESS: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Now I want to see if you can do better than this. For example, you go into Taco Bell, Doritos Locos Tacos. That is a Taco Supreme, ground beef, all the fixings, but the shell is made from Nacho Cheese Doritos substance.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Beat that.

BAYLESS: This is like another...

SAGAL: Genius chef.

BAYLESS: ...another language. I've never even heard of these things. What is that?

SAGAL: But wait a minute, isn't Doritos traditional Spanish?

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SAGAL: Si, some burritos.

BAYLESS: Si, some burritos.

SAGAL: How about this, how about the Crunch Wrap Supreme? That's beef, nacho cheese, wrapped up and grilled, quote, "for maximum portability."

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SAGAL: All right, Rick Bayless...

BODETT: That's like everything I cook, maximum portability.

BAYLESS: That's exactly my problem. I haven't focused enough on portability.

SAGAL: Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BABYLON: You need something while you eat and tweet at the same time.

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BAYLESS: Eat and tweet.

BODETT: It's got to have a handle on it, you see?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Slightly more seriously, because you are so well known and successful in your field, we're assuming this is like anything else that you've got these young guys coming up to you and like trying to win you over. So how do you deal? What do you do when the food's terrible?

BAYLESS: I always have a good time. OK?

SAGAL: Really?

BAYLESS: So that's what I can always say is, "I just had the best time here this evening."

BODETT: Yeah, it's like one of...

DICKINSON: Oh, that's good.

BAYLESS: That's the safest thing to do. I had a great time.

SAGAL: So if you say that when you leave here today, we'll know.

BAYLESS: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BAYLESS: It was so nice to be here.

SAGAL: Really?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BABYLON: It's like when your friend gives you his manuscript to read.

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SAGAL: So I'm going to test. So I just cooked something for you and this - god knows if I would ever be so foolish as to cook something for you, this would happen. And I'd say - it would be awful. And I'd say "so, did you enjoy your lunch?" And you would say?

BAYLESS: Oh, Peter, thank you so much. This was such a great time.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

BAYLESS: Did you notice how easily that came out?

SAGAL: That was really good.

BAYLESS: I'm really practiced at that.

SAGAL: I know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BABYLON: Golden Globe.

SAGAL: Have you ever been in a situation where something is so awful you actually have trouble eating it and you're like how can I slip this into my napkin?

BAYLESS: Yeah.

SAGAL: Really?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BAYLESS: Yeah. I try to go to the restroom and then sneak out the front door. Oh, did I not - I'm sorry, I didn't say thank you.

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SAGAL: Really, you dine and ditch?

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SAGAL: Oh my gosh, one of America's leading chefs is climbing out the bathroom window.

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(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: He left money. We don't understand.

BAYLESS: Throw money on the table and get out.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, Rick Bayless, it is always a pleasure to see you here. We have asked you here to play a game we're calling?

CARL KASELL: I am the Lorax.

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KASELL: I speak for the trees, in a voice that sounds a lot like Danny Devito.

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SAGAL: Kids today know the Lorax as an amusing corporate spokesman, but it wasn't always like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: The original version of the Lorax was quite different. His creator, Dr. Seuss was born 108 years ago this week. In a tribute to him, we're going to ask you three questions about him. Get two right; you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. Carl, who is Rick Bayless playing for?

KASELL: Rick is playing for Anne Orchier of New York, New York.

SAGAL: First question: Dr. Seuss wasn't actually a doctor. He was born Theodore Geisel, and adopted his pen name, why? A: Dr. Seuss was the name of his childhood dentist, famous for telling fantabulous stories while drilling cavities. B: he was barred from writing for his college paper for underage drinking and needed a pseudonym. Or C: he was always getting teased because Geisel is Dutch for toilet plunger.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BAYLESS: Oh man. I don't know anything at all about Dr. Seuss.

SAGAL: Really?

BAYLESS: Let's see. The one that's most romantic is the first one, the dentist.

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SAGAL: I think the phrase "the one that was most romantic was the dentist" has never before been said.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So you're going to go with the dentist, the idea that Dr. Seuss was his childhood dentist who regaled him with stories while drilling his cavities?

BAYLESS: I have a feeling I'm going down the wrong path here.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BAYLESS: But...

SAGAL: Who am I to tell you?

BAYLESS: Yeah, that is my answer.

SAGAL: It was actually the underage drinking. Actually, it was...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Yeah, when he was in Dartmouth, he was busted for drinking. They wouldn't let him write for the college paper. He picked a pseudonym, his middle name and he was a doctor, Dr. Seuss.

All right, now he's known mostly for his kids' books, of course, but he also wrote and illustrated some books for adults, including which of these? A: The Five Thousand Dollars Owed by Bartholomew Cubbins to his Bookie?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B: The Seven Lady Godivas, featuring lots of naked ladies. Or C: There's a Schnoozel in my Kaboozel?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BAYLESS: Wow. Well Schnoozel in my Kaboozel sounds too much like the rest of his books. So I think I'm going to throw that one out. I think the second one.

SAGAL: Seven Lady Godivas?

BAYLESS: I think...

SAGAL: You're right, the Seven Lady Godivas.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: He did this book. The book flopped because naked ladies as drawn by Dr. Seuss just aren't very sexy, if you can imagine.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: He had a lot of skills. Erotica? No.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Last question: Dr. Seuss tried to make his kids' books a little more edgy as well. For example, his classic early reader "Hop on Pop," originally included what word? A: Contraceptive? B: Concubine? Or C: Nixon?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BAYLESS: Oh wow, that's hard. Well concubine sort of has that Seuss feel to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BODETT: I could kind of imagine that character.

SAGAL: Another sentence that's never been said. I've told you how much I enjoy your food, I think over the years, I've mentioned that to you.

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BAYLESS: Yes.

SAGAL: So I feel like I owe ya.

BAYLESS: OK. So it's not concubine.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BAYLESS: I'm going to say Nixon.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BAYLESS: No, I'm going to say contraceptive.

SAGAL: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Very good, it's contraceptive.

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BODETT: Well played.

SAGAL: The verse originally went: "When I read I am smart. I always cut whole words apart. Con-stan-tin-ople, Tim-buk-too, con-tra-cep-tive, kan-ga-roo."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Seuss said he just wanted to make sure his editor Bennett Cerf was paying attention.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And he was. Carl, how did Rick Bayless do on our quiz?

KASELL: Rick had two correct answers there, Peter, so he wins for Anne Orchier.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: So, Rick, how did you enjoy yourself?

BAYLESS: I had the best time...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Well done. Rick Bayless is an award-winning chef and he's the co-creator and star of Cascabel, opening March 21st at the Looking Glass Theater here in Chicago. Rick Bayless, thank you so much for being with us again. Rick Bayless, ladies and gentlemen.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

BAYLESS: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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