Amidst a million other things going on this week, I thought I’d take a moment to note the passing of the man behind Taco Bell, Glen Bell, Jr. I grew up waiting with barely contained excitement for taco night, which in my gabacho household meant the ritual spooning of meat, colby-jack cheese and lettuce into a crispy tortilla. Later, it became the first meal I ever figured out how to make myself (with help from a kit), starting me down the road of culinary self-sufficiency I walk today.
According to the New York Times’ obituary page, I have a man to thank for this glorious innovation of the pre-crisped taco shell:
… Mr. Bell, a fan of Mexican food, had a hunch that ground beef, chopped lettuce, shredded cheese and chili sauce served in the right wrap could give burgers a run for the money. The problem was which wrap. Tacos served in Mexican restaurants at the time were made with soft tortillas.“If you wanted a dozen, you were in for a wait,” Mr. Bell said. “They stuffed them first, quickly fried them and stuck them together with a toothpick.”
The solution: preformed fried shells that would then be stuffed. Mr. Bell asked a man who made chicken coops to fashion a frying contraption made of wire.
Much innovation has come from the creative abuse of chicken wire. May ever more tasty creations be spawned from the hands of geniuses with pliers.
So Mr. Bell, for cheaply feeding generations of mall employees, for prepping my tender palette to the wonders of churros, and for introducing the joys of beans and tortillas to the North American masses, long before many in those white bread zones had ever met a real live Mexican, I salute you.