Jim Baron

Chef Jim Baron

jim-baron-largeWhen he’s not surfing the turquoise break of a wave off the coast of some exotic locale or honing his championship wrestling style, Jim Baron is at the helm of the Blue Mesa Grill with his wife, Liz Baron.

Baron, a 25-year veteran of the restaurant industry, is CEO of the highly-acclaimed Blue Mesa Grill, a collection of five contemporary southwest restaurants in the Dallas area. He’s also president of Mesa SW Restaurants Inc., which includes TNT/Tacos and Tequila, a younger, more elemental concept encompassing a grill and tequila bar. Located in Austin, TNT/Tacos and Tequila is expanding into San Antonio and Dallas and was recently rated by Zagat as one of top 10 places in the U.S. to sip tequila.

The Zagat Survey of Texas Restaurants handed Blue Mesa its “Exceptional Sunday Brunch” award. The same outstanding menu won Blue Mesa third place for Best Brunch in the World from the International Restaurant & Hotel Awards. “We’ve gotten pretty stellar awards for both concepts,” Baron says.

At the heart of both concepts is a very robust and vertically-integrated tequila program that focuses on a different distiller each month. The Perfect Purée is ideal for creating the fresh taste that’s the essence of the margaritas and tequilas cocktails at Blue Mesa and TNT, Baron says.

“There are certain flavors where fresh fruit is good but a lot of times fresh does not give us enough power and The Perfect Purée provides more intensity,” he says.

Red raspberry puree, for example, complements fresh-squeezed lemon and lime juice, fresh mint and agave nectar in Blue Mesa’s Raspberry Limonada, which features Olmeca Altos hand-crafted tequila.

In his opinion, Baron says the bartender has become the next great chef and The Perfect Purée is an important part of the “mise en place” of great mixology.

“That’s the cutting edge of things, playing with different flavors — sweet and savory, sweet and smoky, sweet and spicy. The Perfect Purée is, at a high level, part of that mixology because they’ve got very esoteric and very high-quality consistent flavors,” Baron says.

The Perfect Purée plays a role in Blue Mesa’s kitchens as well, appearing in marinades and glazes.

“We have a ginger chipotle glaze with the The Perfect Purée Ginger Puree, as well as a mango and lime glaze,” Barons says.

Prior to opening Blue Mesa with Liz in 1988, Jim spent eight years as an executive with Taco Bell and El Torito Restaurants, Inc. When El Torito’s founder, Larry Cano, gave Jim the opportunity to turn around El Torito’s failing Texas restaurants, Jim presented Cano with a proposal to change all of the El Torito’s in Texas to different concepts.

Cano was so impressed that he sold the properties to Jim and Blue Mesa Grill took off. From the start, Jim and Liz were adamant about developing a concept that was affordable, but had better food, atmosphere and service than a typical casual theme chain restaurant.

“We believe our customers want authenticity and flavor in their food, so our food has the ‘bold and colorful tastes of the Southwest’ based on it being made from scratch each day from fresh ingredients,” Jim says.

Besides trusting his team of bartenders to keep the bar menu current and seasonal with locally-sourced ingredients, Baron says he finds inspiration when he’s far away from work.

“I was surfing in Santa Cruz and after a session went up to the pier and there was a guy making this chicken with this incredible set of spices and dirty margaritas with caramelized simple syrup and tamarind,” he recalled.

Baron went home and adapted that smokey caramelized base for his own version. “We won awards with that dirty margarita,” he says. “A lot of ideas don’t come from forcing it but from natural exposure, getting away from the business and just exploring.”

Recipes

Mango Habanero Sauce
Peach Blueberry Margarita

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