Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

A Recipe for Disaster
Windy City Playhouse
Review by Ruth Smerling

The Cast
Photo Courtesy of Windy City Playhouse
People from all over the world come to Chicago to experience chef Rick Bayless' restaurants. The food is imaginative, delicious and healthy. Eating at Frontera or Topolobampo are unforgettable dining experiences. Why, the presentation alone is worth the price of airfare. Bayless has written numerous cookbooks, stars in his own TV show "Mexico, One Plate at a Time" on PBS, made numerous public appearances, and launched countless careers. He also loves the theater. In 2012 he teamed up with the Lookingglass Theater to turn the Water Tower into a glorious hacienda for Rick Bayless in Cascabel, using actors, musicians, singers, and circus performers to tell the story of Chef Raul, a cook who can make people fall in love with his mysterious food.

Bayless' latest work, A Recipe for Disaster!, is co-written with Carl Menninger and Amy Rubenstein of Windy City Playhouse. David H. Bell, winner of a Jefferson Award for his work on the Playhouse's Southern Gothic, directs. They've turned Petterino's Club Level private room on Randolph Street into a stage/restaurant with an interactive extravaganza that unveils a chef's worst nightmares.

The scene is The Contumacious Pig, a hot new French bistro that specializes in roast suckling pig. General manager Shelley (Emma Jo Boyden) is frantic. The sous chef has called off, which means second in command, Jude (Ben Page), has to step up. Not only is he terrified, but he has no pig to cook. The purveyor is late and what finally gets delivered does not have a USDA stamp on it.

This is a very important night for The Contumacious Pig, and the audience is enlisted as part of a cast of influencers: social media bloggers who have multitude likes and can encourage interest in just about anything. Two influencers, Loreen (Kierra Bunch) and Kiki (Carley Cornelius), are among the crowd, and they move from table to table, taking selfies, looking for handsome men, and scaring the staff. They both have a crush on Jude, who can barely stand up much less flirt with them. Line cook Iggy (Alex Morales) wants to support Ben, so he gives him a few B-vitamins to pep him up and keep him focused. But, instead of B-vitamins, he's accidentally given him a Xanax and not only is chef Jude loopy, his legs turn to rubber.

Wait, there's more! There's a new waiter, Boris (Ian Maryfield), who is really spying on the Pig to steal recipes and use them in his own bistro. Plus, the health inspector (Ryan Reilly), a paranoid guy with abysmal low self-esteem, has chosen this night to show up as well.

There's a lot of slapstick, misunderstanding, and stomach turning. The performance includes several tasty morsels and one that is deliberately inedible due to sabotage by the vicious Boris. Along with the actors' turmoil, the audience is assaulted with the smell of burnt food, and faced with the incessant talk of diarrhea, a rat demonstration, and just about anything that can go wrong in a restaurant and take it from sought-after fine dining to closed doors in one night. It's a little draining and enough to make a person rethink the need for restaurants at all. Still, high points are scored with Lainie Bayless' Paloma, a combination of tequila, fresh squeezed grapefruit, and lime, plus the roasted dates stuffed with gooey smoked Gouda, the lemony pasta with fresh succulent crab bites and artichokes, and the decadent chocolate mousse passed out during the show.

The cast creates the heart-pounding bustle and stress of an actual restaurant. Along with the chaos in the kitchen, betrayal by a rival chef and the kumbaya camaraderie in the kitchen, there's Felix, the bus boy, played by the thrilling Daniel Trinidad. Trinidad is a superb acrobat whose goal as a performer is to "leave you with something to remember every time you see him." He has the strength to do things that defy gravity, like jump up on a high counter. He can circumvent disaster like no one else. He has the agility and grace to make it look easy, but he's someone special, a gifted performer who causes the audience to burst into applause and hysteria in every scene he steals.

A Recipe for Disaster runs in an open-ended production at Petterino's, 150 N. Dearborn Street, Chicago IL. (The entrance to Windy City Playhouse is right around the corner on Randolph.) For tickets and information, please visit

COVID-19 Safety: (1) All guests will be asked for proof of vaccination at the door. Vaccination must have occurred at least 14 days prior to the performance. Our hope is not to have to require masks, but we will follow whatever is mandated by the City or State government at the time of the performance. (2) Alternatively, guests may show a negative COVID-19 PCR test from the past 48 hours. Those guests who are not vaccinated will additionally be asked to wear a mask when not actively eating or drinking. (3) If you are not comfortable holding onto tickets for your performance date, you may be issued a credit upon request, and you may opt to reschedule for another showtime. At this time, we cannot offer any refunds. (4) This COVID-19 Safety policy is subject to change. For questions, please email us at: or call 773.891.8985. Thank you for your cooperation in keeping our artists, staff, and fellow audience members safe!