Friday, March 28, 2008

Contradictory Cookware: the Bayless Bargains

Rick Bayless, one of my favorite chefs, was just on Bravo's Top Chef. A couple years ago, I went to his Chicago restaurant, Frontera Grill.* It was fantastic. Recently, Bayless followed the crowd and jumped into the celebrity chef signature cooking accessories market with Sur la Table doing most of the promoting. After just a handful of months, the Bayless brand can be found at reduced prices at TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and for criminally low prices on Even Sur la Table has reduced their astronomical prices.

Everyday Mexican is one of my very favorite cookbooks, as it synopsizes the phenomenal flavors and the essential ethics behind authentic Mexican food. So, at first, I did not judge Rick's latest marketing move. Instead, I presumed that the Bayless brand salsa maker, pepper roaster, and avocado masher must be essential additions to every kitchen (but, I sure as hell wasn't going to pay full price for them). After all, the Frontera line of salsas and cooking sauces are absolutely delicious (and worth every penny).

Bayless used Le Creuset pots and pans on his Mexico One Plate at a Time PBS show and thus many of the vessels sporting his name are slightly cheaper imitations. The stuff is all made by Copco - the same company behind the Mario Batali line of cooking utensils and enameled pans. They've been around a while and their products generally don't suck. However, they are all made in China, despite the fact that Bayless wanted his products "Hecho en Mexico" (not profitable enough for Copco, as it turns out).

Since we're on the subject of celebrity cookware, do any of you swear by a certain signature product? Jamie's T-Fal? Rachel's orange everything? Puck's panini press? I think the Emeril brand non-stick pans are probably pretty good, since they're made by All Clad. I keep a keen eye out for those in the clearance section. But, it looks like I'm going to have to sift through the piles of Bayless products for a while to come.

As you may have noticed on this blog, I can't pass up a bargain. A few weeks ago, I brought home this avocado masher from TJ Maxx ($5). It's a good idea, because you need to use a spoon to scoop the avocado out and then a fork (or potato masher) to make the guacamole. With this thing, it scoops and mashes, almost in one fluid motion. So, it's almost completely unnecessary, but I had to patronize my boy Rick, just a little bit. Oh, and I grabbed his cast iron griddle (comal) for less than half price as well.

Then, I saw this pepper roaster on Amazon, for $9.99, down from $59.99 (w/FREE shipping for a limited time, I'm sure - as Amazon deals tend to fluctuate). It's cast iron, pretty, and it doubles as a griddle. Wow. Who knows if I'll ever use it, but again, I can't and didn't pass up this bargain.

Another major reduction is the Bayless beanpot for $9.99, down from $39.99 (again with FREE shipping). One blogger was outraged by the beanpot, as were some Amazon reviewers. It seems that you can't cook with it over direct heat and it might only be safe in the oven up to 325 degrees (even though all stoneware is fired at 2400 degrees). So, perhaps there is cause for concern. But, you can still soak dried beans in it, or serve soup out of it, or just fill it with cookies! At 10" across, it's still a bargain, so I bought one for my dad.

If you're going to take up one of these Amazon bargains, you'll have to get your total up to $25 in order to get that FREE shipping. Do what I did and order the Top Chef cookbook. If you ever enjoyed the show (maybe more so before the formula and casting became so predictable), you'll love this book. It's designed beautifully, with a cloth cover and luminous pictures of precision plated food.

Readers, "pack your knives and go" buy some bargain cookware thanks to Rick Bayless' marketing misteps.

*We couldn't afford Rick Bayless' Mexican fine dining restaurant, Topolobampo.


  1. The avocado masher looks a bit like a medieval gynecological device...

    Crickets courtesy of the RVA Blogs aggregator crash entering it's second day.... Now you find out who your loyal readers are, not just those sucked in by cute headlines.

  2. I think the crickets are courtesy of the confederacy's culture of complicity. Or, maybe my readers aren't as "alliterate" as I am.

    About the beanpot... One theory is that the 325 degree threshold is to prevent one from "shocking" the clay with high heat. Instead, you could just stickit in the oven and THEN turn it on to 400 or whatever, because the increase would be gradual.

  3. First of all.. Rachel Ray is annoying on TV and a friend of mine saw her a while back in NY and confirmed - just as annoying in person. But besides my personal feelings about her "nails on a chalkboard voice" - something about her cookware bothers me - most cookware is a circle or sqaure - but hers is in an oval shape. Most burners on a stove top are in a circle or square shape so I am wondering if there is something uneven "heatwise" with an oval shaped pot...anyone out there tried it? As far as tested cookware - Mario Batali's line of cookware (available at Crate and Barrel) seems to work wonders - similar in design and hefty like Le Creuset (sp) - but half the price.

  4. Rachel Ray is alright in small doses, but that's not our reality, is it? She's everywhere all the time. Our world is supersaturated with her. I think I see Rachel Ray more than I see my wife. We're so inundated with RR that I think her fans are actually entitled to have her brand in their kitchens as a keepsake or a promise ring to seal the committment.

    Because Rachel Ray is so "accessible", her product line is relatively affordable and that cheap(ly-made)ness comes with the bonus of being "lightweight" as many people avoid the heavy high end stuff. The oval pans are allegedly designed so they don't crowd each other on the burners. Hasn't that every happened to you? The stock pot or 12" pan means you can't fit a pot on the neighboring burner?

  5. Great post as usual, RVA Foodie. I had no idea about the Top Chef cookbook. When I looked at your copy at work, I was impressed with the layout and beautiful photos. Keep up the good work teaching us about all things gastronomical.

  6. I just made refried beans and used my guac masher on the frijoles. My new verdict: Fantastic all purpose masher.

    Bayless beans:

    2-3 tbsp oil or lard, heated, then some minced garlic added. Before garlic browns stir in two cans beans (any variety), simmer for a few minutes and then mash to your preferred consistency. Heat a couple minutes more and serve (or set aside to be reheated). Season with salt. Vegetarians: add Bacon Salt!

  7. Bad news. I popped by Marshalls on the way home from work, because Karen needed something from the grocery store that I was sure I could find for cheap (if I could find it on clearance - and I did - more on that later). Well, happened upon another Bayless item on discount: the Tortilla steamer.

    It's a beautiful shallow ceramic dish with a lid and a little ceramic insert to raise up your tortilla above some hot water. It was only $12 and I think I'll be able to use it for all kinds of steaming, or just for mini casseroles. Same strange 325 limitation, but I'm thinking of blasting it with 450 heat and seeing what happens. Anybody wanna dare me?


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