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Buen Provecho! (Enjoy your meal!) 

Trailblazer of the Day | Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Topolobampo, Mexique

Illinois Latinos have roots in every Latin American country and region. For more than a century, immigrants have arrived in the Land of Lincoln toting their grandmothers’ recipes and secret ingredients, local cooking styles and voracious appetites.

This diversity is reflected in the many types of restaurants all across Illinois, from a taco joint near the Wisconsin border in Winthrop Harbor all the way south to a Tex-Mex diner in Pulaski County. In the Chicago area alone, Urbanspoon identifies 2,514 Latino dining options, including 86 “Caribbean” restaurants, 18 Brazilian eateries and 87 tapas bars! If you look at Urbanspoon’s and TripAdvisor’s most popular or highest-rated restaurants, you’ll find Argentine, Brazilian, Cuban, Costa Rican, Mexican and Spanish choices. And the popular Puerto Rican jibarito sandwich was actually born in Chicago!

Illinois has become a culinary destination and is home to some of the world’s top-rated eateries. Two Chicago restaurants featuring Latin American fare recently earned stars on the 2013 Chicago Guide released by Michelin, one of the most selective and distinguished international restaurant-rating organizations.

Rick Bayless of Topolobampo

Chef Rick Bayless opened Topolobampo in 1991. It was the first Mexican restaurant in the world to earn a Michelin star (2010) and has received one annually ever since. Topolobampo was the first ethnic restaurant to earn a 4-star rating from Chicago Magazine and was recently named one of the Top Five restaurants in the nation by the James Beard Foundation. Though not of Latino heritage, Bayless is a master of authentic Mexican cuisine, host of his own Emmy-nominated PBS series Mexico: One Plate at a Time and author of several Mexican cookbooks. Bayless received the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest decoration given by the Mexican Government to non-Mexicans.

Carlos Gaytan of Mexique

As a youth in his native Guerrero, Mexico, Carlos Gaytan butchered goats for his mother’s taco stand before coming to Chicago in 1991 where he took a job as a dishwasher in a Loop hotel restaurant. He worked his way up the cooking ladder until he founded Mexique in 2008, where he serves as executive chef. Mexique combines Gaytan’s passion for French cooking with his Mexican heritage. In February, 2013, it was recognized by the prestigious Michelin Guide. The American Culinary Federation named Gaytan the 2011 Chef of the Year. He is currently competing on the 2013 season of Top Chef, which premiered last week.