A 'Fireside Chat' With Award-Winning Restaurateur Rick Bayless


SCHAUMBURG, Ill. — A highlight of Convenience Store News' inaugural Convenience Foodservice Exchange event was a “fireside chat” between popular Chicago-based celebrity chef and award-winning restaurateur Rick Bayless and Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert.

In an hour-long conversation, Lempert questioned Bayless on a variety of topics, including the latest food trends in the United States, the impact of millennials, the importance of authenticity and freshness, and employee training programs.

“When you look at food, what’s most important to you?” posed Lempert.

“Something in every dish has to seduce me,” replied Bayless. “It could be a flavor that evokes a positive memory.”

The chef said his notion of authenticity is something with “true” flavor, explaining: “You don’t go down to Mexico and return with grandma’s recipes and think that what you make is authentic.”

Authenticity is especially important to millennials, he added, like his own daughter. “They care that something rings true as a flavor,” Bayless said. “They don’t want something watered-down or made bland in order to appeal to the masses.”

Above all else, food should evoke emotion. “I want an emotional reaction from our guests. I love anything to do with feeding people. We get to make people happy. That’s the big payoff,” he remarked.

Bayless also extolled the open kitchen concept — with a twist. “It’s just as important for our cooks to see the faces of our guests as it is for the guests to see the food being prepared,” he noted.

The changing population of America has changed what people are looking for from their food. “People want more spice and bolder flavors. Get freshness into everything you do and don’t forget the notion of transparency,” he added. “Freshness is more than lettuce on a sandwich or an apple at the register.”

Last but not least, Bayless advocated for businesses to spend more money on education and training programs. “We have the opportunity to change the world through our employee training programs. Rather than trying to make things ‘idiot-proof,’ how about we invest in training so entry-level positions aren’t a dead-end job anymore?” he urged the Convenience Foodservice Exchange crowd.

Convenience Store News, a division of EnsembleIQ, hosted the inaugural Convenience Foodservice Exchange at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel on Sept. 15-16. It is the only conference and exhibition focused entirely on convenience store foodservice. The event drew approximately 50 retailers, representing more than 22,000 stores. 

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