Chef Lorena Garcia discusses development of new Taco Bell menu

Chef Lorena Garcia wasn’t shy about telling Taco Bell that she didn’t like its chicken.

On a visit to Los Angeles Wednesday during a nationwide tour to promote the new Cantina Bell menu she developed for the Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell, which rolls out nationally July 5, Garcia explained that her goal is to shake things up a bit in the fast food world.

Known for her appearances on television shows such as “The Biggest Loser,” “America’s Next Great Restaurant” and this year’s “Top Chef Masters,” as well as multiple syndicated shows on networks throughout Latin America, Garcia owns three restaurants in Miami and is active in anti-obesity efforts that target children and schools.

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When Taco Bell came to her two years ago asking for her help in designing new menu options that would bring the 50-year-old chain back to its roots, Garcia said she was initially skeptical.

After tasting everything on Taco Bell’s menu, she admitted that she didn’t like some things. “The chicken was really, really spiced up,” she said. It also became clear that Taco Bell’s expertise was in “cheesy and sour creamy,” she added.

Garcia said that although the chain had the system of portioning and consistency down pat, they had, perhaps, lost sight of the food.

“I didn’t want to compromise my ideas,” said Garcia. “This was a risky situation for me. But that risk, that challenge, became an opportunity.”

So Garcia borrowed from her mother’s recipe book and developed a series of menu items for Taco Bell that attempted to elevate the menu with options and new ingredients that will appeal to customers who want to “eat more responsibly,” she said.

The Cantina Bowl, for example, includes grilled citrus-and-herb marinated chicken with rice, black beans, shredded romaine lettuce, pico de gallo, guacamole and roasted-corn salsa topped with creamy cilantro dressing. The bowl can be made with steak or vegetarian, and the ingredients can also be wrapped in a burrito.

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