Chicago's master of Mexican cuisine has a new title: Top Chef Master.
Rick Bayless, chef and owner of the perpetually booked Frontera Grill/Topolobampo restaurants, played to his strengths to outlast smarmy Californian Michael Chiarello and classy Frenchman Hubert Keller on Wednesday's finale of "Top Chef Masters" on Bravo.
"Viva Mexico," Bayless gamely told the camera after his win.
How about Viva Chicago?
The chefs' final challenge was to make a four-course meal that traced the history of their careers.
Except for Bayless' final course, the judges tasted his dishes after his competitors' -- and gushed. And gushed. While his fourth course -- a seafood and chorizo stew -- suffered from overcooked shellfish, the black mole in his second course was deemed "phenomenal." The judges couldn't stop talking about it.
The show was a more genteel spin-off of Bravo's popular "Top Chef" series. While the original pits up-and-coming chefs against each other (the new season of "Top Chef" also debuted last night), the "Masters" version featured 24 of the nation's most celebrated chefs, including Wylie Dufresne of New York's wd-50, Hawaii's Roy Yamaguchi and fellow Chicagoans Graham Elliot Bowles and Art Smith.
Another difference: The master chefs played for charity.
Bayless' win nets him a $100,000 check for his charity, Frontera Farmer Foundation, which supports small, sustainable Midwestern farms.