A Visit to the Taco Bell Test Kitchen

Last week, I was graciously invited to visit Taco Bell‘s test kitchen to learn more about their Volcano Menu and take a quick tour around their Irvine, CA headquarters. Taco Bell had a select few food writers flown in from around the country to tour the facility, get creative in the test kitchen and meet up with the lead food developers and marketers behind their brand.

The lobby doubles as an interesting museum of Taco Bell’s history and future. Along with a sprawling wall of historical facts, they have a photo realistic recreation of their menu items from their conception in 1955 to the Volcano Menu Items that had just been released. The McDonald’s of Mexican food? I’d say so!

Can you tell the following are plastic recreations?

Believe it or not, there’s a food court with the rest of the Yum! brands, Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell. Yes, Taco Bell employees trickled down from the various levels of the building to eat Taco Bell during their lunch hour. I guess there’s no such thing as too much Taco Bell!

Once the pleasantries were out of the way, we took a seat in their test kitchen to get our eat on and learn a little bit about the future plans for Taco Bell’s products and promotions. Ever wonder who’s responsible for coming up with and promoting new menu items? Intro these charming ladies, Kat and Megan, who walked us through their latest creations and what’s to come for the summer and rest of the year:

The Volcano Taco and the Volcano Double Beef Burrito were spectacular. When it comes to the quick serve industry, it’s rare, if not impossible to find a flavor so bold and off-the-wall, especially with a restaurant so widely available as Taco Bell. This usually is a result of trying to please as wide an audience as possible, but in this case, Taco Bell’s new risk with the tear-inducing Lava Sauce is definitely a risk well taken. The burrito is relatively hefty, but it’s the spicy taste contrasted with the cool sour cream, accented with crunchy red strips, rice and double the beef that really make this burrito both filling and tasty.

After giving us a little 411 on how certain items were created, they let our little group wash up, get sterile, and get creative using their test kitchen.

Ryan from GrubGrade definitely did not take the moment lightly, seizing the opportunity to create his own signature dish, “Fully Loaded Cheesy Volcano Chicken Nachos”. Mouthful? In more ways than one.

Stand-up comic and food writer John from SoGood stood confused, stating that he was unclear about the creativity portion of our visit. He covered himself mentioning that he found pleasure in wrapping the taco, regardless of its simplicity.

My inner psychologist kicked in when it became my turn to turn on the creativity. Considering I had already pigged out enough during the taste-testing portion, I decided to see if I could put together a healthier, lighter option. As a result, we have my Volcano Chicken Salad, a collection of rice and beans, topped with lettuce, grilled chicken strips, fresh salsa and lava sauce. Delicious!

Thanks to Will (Taco Bell), Deborah (Taco Bell), and Lauren for having us last week! Stay tuned this summer and into the coming months for some awesome new stuff from Taco Bell, both Volcano Menu related and otherwise!

By Elie Ayrouth

Elie is a product of Orange County, CA. In early 2012, his dentist diagnosed him with 8 different cavities, three of which on the same tooth, as a result of his 23-year Sour Patch Kid addiction.