Chef-scholar Rick Bayless of Chicago's Frontera Grill recounts his favorite tools and sources.
One piece of kitchen equipment Bayless coveted for years and recently acquired is a Delonghi Dual Zone Deep Fryer, which he uses to make churros ($170; 888-921-9378). Another is a Sanyo Rice Cooker; the steamer doubles as a tortilla warmer ($40; 818-998-7322).
Bayless is happy to report that American stores are starting to carry Mexican Citrus Squeezers, which he says are the best tools to juice limes quickly ($15 from Restoration Hardware; 800-762-1005).
"About a third of the dishes we prepare at home call for something to be grated," Bayless says. His 11-year-old daughter, Lanie, loves to help out by using the Progressive International Tower Grater, because the rubber ball on top and nonskid corners make it easy to hold in place ($13; 800-426-7101).
When working in his 2,000-square-foot garden, Bayless refers to Rodale's Encyclopedia Of Organic Gardening for advice. He also gets heirloom seeds from the Illinois catalog Grandma's Garden. "I buy Mrs. Benson's tomato seeds from them every winter," he says. "She was a lady in the suburbs of Chicago who raised the offspring of this seed for 70 years" (www.underwoodgardens.com).
Bayless buys a lot of Mexican ingredients from Chicago stores such as Supermarket Villa, formerly Jiménez (5020 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-637-7436), but he also likes several on-line sources. His favorite one-stop-shopping site is The CMC Company (www.thecmccompany.com). The best for chiles, he says, is Los Chileros de Nuevo Mexico (www.hotchilepepper.com).
Mortar and Pestle
Bayless uses a molcajete, a lava-rock mortar and pestle, to crush roasted garlic and chiles for salsa. "You want one that holds at least three cups," Bayless says. "The good ones feel heavy for their size" ($45 from Sur La Table; 800-243-0852).