CHICAGO — A nationally known Mexican restaurant owned by Chef Rick Bayless in River North is now highlighting its Afro-mestizo cuisine for Black History Month.

Frontera Grill, a restaurant that has origins rooted in individuals who were enslaved by Spaniards hundreds of years ago, has been working to showcase a culturally aware balance of soul and food.

Chef Richard James has been working with owner Rick Bayless for 29 years to showcase the blend.

Chef James, a South Side native who attended all-boys Mendel Catholic High School, paid his own tuition by working at a Sizzler restaurant starting as a dishwasher at age 15. He then worked his way up to chef at Frontera Grill.

When Javauneeka Jacobs, a Harvard, Illinois native, got her job at Frontera, James took her under his wing to perfect her cooking style.

“He’s mentored me from the moment I walked in the door,” Jacobs said.

Although Jacobs was a promising athlete with scholarship offers in basketball and track, she chose cooking as her life-long passion. She remembers telling her parents about her career ambitions.

“They were caught off guard but I was like no I want to try it so I went to the Cordon Bleu Chicago last graduating class and I just fell in love,” she said.

Together, Chef James and Jacobs teamed up to create the Afro-Mestizo menu in conjunction with Black History Month.

“Menus like this only come around once in a lifetime. They are super special,” Jacobs said.

Chefs James and Jacobs hope to remind young, Black kids that if the two of them were able to make it this far in the culinary world, everyone else can too.

You can find Chef Rick Bayless on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

You can find Frontera Grill on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter