Discovering The Building Blocks of Mexican Cuisine with Chef Rick Bayless

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A Tour of San Francisco’s Mission Sponsored by Negra Modelo

Rick Bayless

Photo courtesy of Negra Modelo

Over the last few months, spanning two coasts from Portland to Vermont to Anaheim to San Francisco – I’ve been sampling beer and building an appreciation for the flavor complexity of this refreshing beverage. In Portland, we visited Burnside Brewing and enjoyed their unique unfiltered beer with creative appetizers to match. In Vermont at the suggestion of a local food contact, I tried Hill Farmstead’s Edward Pale Ale at the Farmhouse Tap and Grill. The citrusy, piney ale was a wonderful reward after a long bike ride along Lake Champlain. In Anaheim I hesitantly sipped a pumpkin ale at an eclectic appetizer party at the huge Fresh Summit Conference and was happily surprised when it paired well with so many foods. And then I was invited to join a blogger’s tour of San Francisco’s Mission District hosted by beer maker Negra Modelo, accompanied by Chef Rick Bayless. I jumped at the chance to learn more about Mexican cuisine, a dark Mexican beer and how to pair food and beer together, all under the tutelage of a world-renowned chef.

We started our tour in the Mission district of San Francisco where trendy renovated houses and hip stores and restaurants sit side by side with the original funky shops and historic food stores and eateries. We visited three original food establishments to learn some of the basics of Mexican cuisine.

Rick Bayless

The first stop was a local Mexicatessen, offering an unending supply of fresh ground masa – the starting point for tamales, tortillas, and something I wasn’t yet familiar with – huarache. Huarache is actually the word for ‘sandal’, which is the shape the masa is formed into to make these flatbread style street food favorites. This shop’s masa is GMO- and preservative-free. Chef Bayless described this real corn masa as “the canvas on which Mexican food must be painted”. We enjoyed watching them cook up the huarache right before our eyes and I devoured my carne aside topped beauty, sharing with my friend Annelies of the blog The Food Poet.

Rick Bayless(The two photos on the right of the collage are courtesy of Negra Modelo)

Conveniently, our next stop was a meat market where the owner and butcher explained how the cut of meat used for carne asada was developed. It’s called flap meat and comes from the same belly area of the cow as flank steak does. You remove the flank, then remove the fat layers and what remains is flap meat. The owner of this meat market, Salvador Vasquez, actually brought this cut of meat to the forefront in the United States when other butchers were discarding it or using it only for grinding.

Rick Bayless

Photo courtesy of Negra Modelo

After tasting some comforting stew style meat and fabulous salsas at the meat market, we moved on to a local bakery.

Rick Bayless

La Reyna Bakery, currently run by the third generation of the same family, dons a colorful exterior and interior while the walls are filled with over 25 different breads and pastries made on the premises each day. More and more, the family of bakers are following the trend towards artisanal homemade ingredients as they now make their own custard and chocolate fillings and will be doing the same with their jams and jellies next year. Baking begins at 3AM and continues until 4PM every day. Some of their specialties include cheesecakes, bread pudding, and custard empanadas.

Rick Bayless(The two photos on the left of the collage are courtesy of Negra Modelo)

After we taste-tested several of their tempting creations, we all piled onto a wheeled trolley and headed over to a restaurant near AT&T park that specializes in modern Mexican cuisine. Negra Modelo had quite a line up for us when we arrived.

Rick Bayless

Photo courtesy of Negra Modelo

Rick Bayless

In addition to the food prepared and paired with the Negra Modelo beer, there was “ThePerfectComplement” Twitter vending machine that delivered a prize to us each time we tweeted something about the evening. I won a flash drive that included several recipes from Chef Bayless as well as a copy of Rick Bayless’ cookbook “Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles, and Snacks”.

Rick Bayless

Photo courtesy of Negra Modelo

To break up the eating, drinking, and tweeting, Chef Bayless did four mini tutorials on avocados, onions, peppers, and pairing beer with food. Here are some highlights of his expertise, which by the way, is deep and fascinating. That attention to detail extends to his cookbooks, where he can spend several paragraphs discussing the details of just the limes used for margaritas. I felt privileged to hear his teachings in person that evening:

Rick Bayless


He suggested buying avocados in Mexican grocery stores for two main reasons – they know how to handle them so they don’t get bruised (those little black spots you see when you cut them open) and they are generally ripe and ready to use. For making guacamole, he suggested using a potato masher, just a touch of lime juice, a bit of salt, and be sure to keep it cold to avoid the gray!

Chili Peppers:

Did you know that the heat is contained in the veins, not the seeds? The seeds taste hot because they have been nestled close to the vein. And in Mexico, they don’t ask how hot a chili pepper is, they ask about the flavor, as there are so many different varieties that bring different characteristics and nuance to each dish.


Always use white onion for salsa and guacamole and if you are using it raw, be sure to rinse it to get the sulfurous compound off.

Pairing beer with food:

Negra Modelo has been brewed since 1925 in the Munich Dunkel style, which means the malts are slow roasted, lengthening the brewing process and creating a rich amber color and the taste of caramel and chocolate. Chef Bayless said if you close your eyes and taste Negra Modelo, you wouldn’t guess it was a dark beer. It’s full of flavor but not the usual creamy coffee-like bitterness you might expect in a dark beer. In fact, Chef uses it not only for savory food, but his restaurant serves a chocolate ice cream made with it – using the toasty maltiness for an unexpected application. The dessert is one of their most popular dishes.

He also suggests pairing it with a hearty fish stew, a black mole, and barbacoa especially if made with lamb. At our dinner, we drank it with a fresh Dungeness crab and tomato bisque, a halibut taco with crispy Brussels sprouts chips, and a carnitas torta (the pork was braised in Negra Modelo) .

My crock pot carnitas recipe on my blog uses beer as a key ingredient – no doubt the next batch will be with Negra Modelo, not only in the slow cooker but on the table to drink with dinner.

Along with thoroughly enjoying the tour of The Mission through the eyes of Chef Rick Bayless, generously sponsored by Negra Modelo USA, I met new-to-me Bay Area bloggers and reconnected with many blogging friends. Below is a list of all the bloggers on the tour – be sure to check out their posts to learn more about the Mission, Mexican cuisine, Negra Modelo beer, and Chef Rick Bayless. Also be sure to visit Negra Modelo USA’s web site, or follow them on Twitter, Facebook or their hashtag #ThePerfectComplement.

Rick Bayless

Photo courtesy of Negra Modelo

Amy of Amy’s Healthy Baking
Amy of Cooking with Amy
Amy of Very Culinary
Annelies of The Food Poet
Anita of Dessert First
Cassie of Ever in Transit
Gabi of Broke Ass Gourmet
Irvin of Eat The Love
Jane of This Week for Dinner
Jasmine of Simply Real Moms
Kimberly of Bake Love Give
Sara Deseran, cookbook author and restauranteur
Sean of Hedonia & Punk Domestics
Stephanie of Lick My Spoon
TerriAnn of Cookies & Clogs
Trish of Mom On Timeout

Do you drink or cook with beer? Share your beer knowledge or questions in the comments below!

I was compensated for this post and for social media sharing during the tour by Negra Modelo. All opinions are my own and I am thrilled to be able to share so much interesting information with my readers about Mexican cuisine, beer, and the historic eateries of San Francisco’s Mission district. 

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20 Responses to Discovering The Building Blocks of Mexican Cuisine with Chef Rick Bayless

  1. Carol Sacks December 9, 2014 at 4:14 pm #

    Sounds like you had a fun and delicious day!

    • Beth Lee December 9, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

      I did! It was an “I am very lucky to be a food blogger” moment for sure!

  2. Christina Lakey | Food Apparel December 7, 2014 at 10:22 pm #

    Soooooooo jealous! But seriously, I love Rick Bayless. What an awesome experience!

    • Beth Lee December 9, 2014 at 7:35 pm #

      Thanks for stopping by Christina. Chef Bayless was a terrific source of information and inspiration.

  3. Betsy @ Desserts Required December 6, 2014 at 9:57 am #

    What a fantastic experience, Beth. Each stop had my mouth watering for what you were describing. I loved Chef Bayless’ tips, too.

    I am not a beer drinker but will, happily, share this with my beer drinking friends!

    • Beth Lee December 9, 2014 at 7:33 pm #

      Thanks Betsy! He was such a good teacher — I was so glad I made the trip up to the city.

  4. Alison December 5, 2014 at 8:06 am #

    How fascinating! Lucky you:) New follower from CCN.

    • Beth Lee December 5, 2014 at 10:37 am #

      Nice to meet you Alison. Yes, I felt very lucky to participate. It was a great experience.

  5. Becky Winkler December 5, 2014 at 7:48 am #

    This sounds like a fabulous trip! I’m definitely going to try out those guacamole tips 🙂

    • Beth Lee December 5, 2014 at 10:36 am #

      Thanks for stopping by Becky. I can’t wait until avocado season starts again…

  6. Cassie December 4, 2014 at 11:25 am #

    Nice, I didn’t realize you won the cookbook! I kept trying, but no luck, so I’m adding it to my holiday wish list 🙂 So great to meet you, Beth!

    • Beth Lee December 5, 2014 at 10:35 am #

      Great meeting you too – let’s meet for a lunch crawl or something soon! It was really fun to hang out with you.

  7. The Food Hunter December 4, 2014 at 9:12 am #

    What an awesome experience!

    • Beth Lee December 4, 2014 at 9:26 am #

      Thanks for stopping by. It really was terrific – had to keep pinching myself!

  8. linda December 3, 2014 at 10:00 pm #

    Looks like a great day. Are you going to tell us the name of the restaurant?

    • Beth Lee December 4, 2014 at 9:24 am #

      Hi Linda – I will email you the name of the Mexicatessen and Butchery – there is a weird old law that doesn’t allow you to name a restaurant with a liquor license if you are sponsored by a liquor company. But it was ok to mention the non-liquor licensed bakery. Go figure.

  9. Sarene December 3, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

    What a fab day! How lucky you were to learn from a master chef like Rick Bayless. (Didn’t know about getting avos from a Mexican market. I’ll do that from now on.)

    • Beth Lee December 4, 2014 at 9:22 am #

      So many great tips – he is an awesome teacher.

  10. sandycorman December 3, 2014 at 11:19 am #

    Sounds like you had a great time with rick bayless. Have watched him many times on PBS.

    • Beth Lee December 4, 2014 at 9:21 am #

      Yup – and he was such a great teacher in person.

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