Spice of Life

On location for his PBS cooking series, Mexico: One Plate at a Time, chef Rick Bayless moves excitedly from stand to stand in Mexico City’s Merced Market, sampling succulent tacos, handmade tamales, and colorful salsas. Between bites, he pauses to describe the smells and tastes of the “real” Mexico to his viewers. He’s passionate about sharing authentic food experiences—whether through his award-winning Chicago restaurants, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo; his cookbooks; his television show; or his specialty-foods line, Frontera Foods.

“Food is an opportunity to communicate with people in a unique way,” Bayless says. “Unlike music, unlike words, it’s sort of an instant soul-to-soul communication.”

Fired up by endless ideas for his Mexican food empire, he turned to yoga eight years ago for relaxation and mental clarity. “After about two years of practice, I loved the way I felt in my body, that it was at once strong and flexible,” he says.

Bayless practices yoga daily either at home or on the road, and takes a weekly advanced Anusara class taught by a former intern at his restaurant. He now sees a clear link between his yoga practice and his philosophy of food. “I’ve always looked at food from a very spiritual standpoint, in seeing its interconnectedness to all of life,” he says. “It’s a very intimate cultural expression, and I see my yoga practice as organic in the same way.”

Since suffering a shoulder injury a few years back while practicing Ashtanga Yoga, Bayless has learned to listen to his body and trust its limits—and has found parallels to that in his approach to cooking. “In cooking,” he says, “it’s knowing how far I can take people with the flavors, how to stretch them just a little bit at each opportunity. That’s what a really good yoga practice is all about too—knowing what your limits are and how to push yourself in the right, loving way.”

Catherine S. Gregory is a writer and former food editor in Colorado. She draws culinary inspiration from an eclectic yoga practice.