Taco Bell’s genius; and Sam Bass has a big fan

By Jayson Jacoby January 03, 2014 08:18 am

How many ways can you think of to combine ground beef, refried beans, various forms of cheese, and sour cream?

Not as many as Taco Bell can.

Probably it’s not even close.

The fast food giant employs people whose creativity with taco shells and tortillas is boundless.

(I don’t know what to call these people, but “chef” just doesn’t sound appropriate for a business for which, it seems to me, the ultimate culinary achievement is to offer the most calories per dollar.)

Taco Bell’s latest triumph, which I learned about through a TV spot but have yet to sample (the nearest Taco Bell being 42 miles away), is the “Grilled Stuft Nacho.”

(Taco Bell cares no more about spelling than it does about cholesterol, apparently.)

This isn’t the first time Taco Bell has tasked its top brains with solving the devilish dilemma that confronts all fast food outfits, but which poses a particular problem for purveyors of Mexican dishes:

How to assemble several ingredients, each of which is predisposed to roll, dribble or ooze, into a package that a person can eat one-handed while driving in heavy urban traffic without spilling nacho cheese sauce all over the smartphone that the driver/eater is using to update his Facebook page?

(Hands being optional accessories in driving these days.)

Edison shudders in his grave at the challenge.

Taco Bell’s engineers, though, have yet to concede there is any problem which can’t be contained, as it were, within a grilled flour tortilla.

What they basically have done is take a plate of nachos — a singularly bad menu choice for the commuter, what with the inevitable dripping — and cram everything into a tortilla.

Clever, to be sure.

But after perusing the rest of Taco Bell’s menu I don’t see that the Grilled Stuft Nacho fills a gaping hole in the offerings.

This is, after all, the company that concluded a traditional taco with a crispy corn shell wasn’t sufficient, so they wrapped it with a soft flour one.

Moreover, Taco Bell came out with the Crunchwrap Supreme several years ago, a product that introduced the crispy/soft layering concept with which the new Grilled Stuft Nacho shares more than a passing similarity.

Taco Bell even touts the Crunchwrap Supreme’s “maximum portability,” a term more frequently applied to health insurance or generators than to concoctions of beef, beans and cheese.

I suppose that in the cutthroat fast food business, unless your menu boasts a cultural icon such as the Big Mac or the Whopper, you risk things going stale if you don’t introduce new items regularly.

In any case, the appeal of Taco Bell’s new invention hardly needs explanation.

Who among us hasn’t yearned to munch a plate of nachos while cruising down the highway but figured we couldn’t manage it, what with the steering wheel getting in the way?

My mouth waters when I ponder the Taco Bell geniuses’ next breakthrough.

. . .

Sam Bass has earned first-name status with my daughter Olivia, who’s 6.

I suspect she’s not alone in this.

Sam, as anyone who has passed more than one Christmas season in Baker City probably knows, is the mastermind behind the city’s most lavish, and luminous, display of lights and other decorations far too numerous to list here.

Sam and his wife, Nora, live on 19th Street just south of Campbell, which is not too many blocks from my house.

Olivia, and to a slightly lesser extent her brother, Max, who’s 2, were so entranced by Sam’s display this year that pretty much every time we got in the car, whatever the destination, the chorus from the back seat started up almost immediately.

“Can we go by Sam’s?”

We probably drove past the Bass home half a dozen times this season, and we made one complete tour of the grounds on foot, collecting from Sam himself our candy canes at the entrance.

Olivia, naturally, wanted to go back again the next night.

But here’s the thing: Although Olivia, like her old man, has quite the sweet tooth, her eagerness to return to Sam’s had nothing to do with her craving another candy cane.

She was wholly captivated not by sugar but by the magic that Sam has conjured with his saws and his paint brush and his countless strings of lights.

I am certain that when Olivia, as we all must eventually do, looks back at her childhood Christmases from the distance of decades, she will remember with a special clarity and fondness her trips to Sam’s.

I don’t know if this makes his hours of toil worthwhile, but I sure hope so.

Jayson Jacoby is editor 
of the Baker City Herald.