For Bobby, this was the beginning of his real culinary education. “I fell in love with all these flavors—fresh chiles, blue cornmeal, cilantro,” Bobby says. To him, the punchy flavors were the culinary equivalent of an amusement park.
Waxman was impressed with Bobby’s perseverance. “Bud’s fed 600 people a night, and the menu had lots of different ingredients,” he says. “I threw Bobby in the deep end, and he didn’t fail. Was he better than everyone else? No. But Bobby was one of the few people up to the challenge.”
The food Bobby was cooking in those days had roots in all corners of American cuisine—Cajun, Californian, Southwestern, Southern. It was the perfect place for the kid who didn’t like to be tied down. And it was the ideal training ground for a chef who would become equally adept with Cuban flavors from Florida, bourbon glazes from Kentucky, chowders from New England and, of course, anything Southwestern, the cuisine for which he is best known since he opened Mesa Grill—a polished Southwestern restaurant—in 1991 at just 26 years old.
“I’m a regional American chef,” Bobby declares. The label may sound ordinary, but Bobby wants to remind us of one thing: America is a food superpower. We’re in a period of self-loathing about our eating habits—too much processed food, a sugar addiction and an obesity epidemic—but America is actually a fantastic place to eat. Bar Americain is Bobby’s homage to everything he loves about American food, a restaurant where he proudly serves biscuits and cream gravy (a dish dedicated to his wife, Texas-born actress Stephanie March)—once he works out the problem with the biscuits, of course.