What’s life like in the Taco John’s Test Kitchen? Bold, busy and never boring. Here in Cheyenne, WY, we’re always whipping up what’s new in Mexican. My name is Bob Karisny, and I’m Taco John’s Corporate Chef. I spend my day researching the latest flavor trends, traveling to find new menu ideas and, of course, eating. 
On this website, I’ll be sharing notes from our Taco John’s Test Kitchen, along with my passion for Mexican cuisine. You’ll also hear from Sissy and Carl, my partners in creating – and eating – great food. 
Whether in the U.S. or Mexico, we’re always searching for new flavor ideas and opportunities to learn from the best in Mexican cuisine. Along with these experiences, we’ll also share menu ideas in development and great recipes you can make at home. So tie your apron and get ready to digest some secrets from the Test Kitchen. We hope you came hungry!

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Apr 11, 2014
April 11, 2014 by CARL BLACKBIRD


Growing up in Wyoming, I only thought of tacos two ways –crispy or soft and they should be filled with one of two things:  beef or chicken.  I had no point of reference for seafood in a taco.  Fortunately, years later on a trip to California I had my first shrimp taco and it was amazing! 

This restaurant was near the beach, and its menu had items like shrimp and crab nachos, ceviche, queso fundido, and guacamole prepared tableside.  Their crispy shrimp tacos formally changed my beliefs from those of a young kid who was wary of the concept, to a person who was in love with it!  

Being that there are still a couple weeks of Lent, I thought I’d share this super simple recipe based on this first shrimp taco.  This is my version of what I remember eating back then.   These have a good kick to them; if you’d like them milder use a bit less chipotle powder.  Serve them with some tortilla chips and salsa, and you have a delicious meal for two.

Here's what you'll need:

For the crispy Shrimp:
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
Salt and pepper
1 pound peeled & deveined shrimp, tails removed (small-51/60’s to medium 41/50’s sized)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

For the Chipotle-Lime Sauce:
1 cup fat-free greek yogurt
2 chipotle peppers from a can of chipotles in adobo

Fresh squeezed juice of 1 lime (medium sized)


For the garnishments: 

1 ripe avocado, chopped
Purple cabbage, shredded
1 jalapeno, sliced (remove the seeds if you like your food less spicy)
4 small flour tortillas, warmed

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and chipotle powder with a fork. Season the mixture with salt and pepper, and set aside.   Rinse and dry shrimp. Place in a large bowl, and toss with the flour mixture until all of the shrimp is thoroughly coated.  You might have a bit of flour mixture left over.


In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter with the oil. Cook the shrimp for 3-4 minutes, until cooked through and opaque.   While your shrimp are cooking, place the chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, and lime juice in the bowl of a mini-food processor. Puree until smooth, and fold mixture into the greek yogurt.  Season to taste with salt.   As soon as your shrimp are done, remove from heat and assemble your tacos, garnishing with shredded cabbage, sliced jalapenos, chopped avocados and as much of the Chipotle-Lime sauce as you’d like. 


Filed under: Recipes
Mar 13, 2014
March 13, 2014 by BOB KARISNY

Taco John’s is a not just a business; in the cities where we’re located, we are a neighbor. Our franchisees and Support Center employees are very involved in our communities. So much so that at the Taco John’s Support Center in Cheyenne we are encouraged to do volunteer work, and Taco John’s pays us for our time doing it.


Since our home base is in Wyoming, I like to do what I can in the business I love – food. I help support the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association Education Foundation as a board member. While this great group has many functions, my favorite is giving young adults the opportunity to dive into the food business and see how they like it. A great way high school students can do this is through the ProStart Program. This program, developed by The National Restaurant Association, is a nationwide, two-year high school program that unites the classroom and industry to develop the best and brightest talent into tomorrow’s restaurant and foodservice leaders.


The culmination of all of this teaching and study is a competition. There are two areas of this competition: management (teams actually design a restaurant concept from philosophy to tables and chairs) and culinary (teams complete culinary skills and develop and produce an appetizer, entrée and dessert). Since my passion is with the food, I help by judging the culinary portion of this completion. This is a timed event, so the students are moving and being judged on how they plan, communicate and execute cooking and knife skills, sanitation practices and, of course, the look and taste of their three courses. They do this in a kitchen that is constructed in a banquet hall with only two table-top burners and no electrical (battery or plug in) equipment allowed. It is amazing what these creative, well-trained future culinarians make. Nine teams competed this year, and the scoring was very close. The winning team came from Glenrock High School in Glenrock, Wyoming, second was East High School in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and third was Encampment High School in Encampment, Wyoming. Glenrock will represent Wyoming in the national ProStart competition in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May.


Please enjoy the photos from these teams’ great work, and congratulations to all teams. It was a close competition, and they all did very well.

1st place Glenrock High School

2nd place Cheyenne East High School

3rd place Encampment High School

Filed under: Culinary Competition
Feb 25, 2014
February 25, 2014 by SISSY KRAMER

Recently, I went to a goal-setting workshop where we focused on our life goals using the SMART business goals model. Asking myself what I want to be doing in one, five, ten and 20 years really made me think. 


 I have been in quick-service for over 30 years, starting out as a team member at McDonald's when I was 17 years old and working my way up the ladder. I loved  that in the workshop we did a fun exercise where we cut out pictures and made our “goals” poster. I even put mine up in my office as a reminder that I need to work EVERY DAY to achieve my goals. The beauty of sharing goals is that others can help you to attain them.



Here are the goals that the images on my poster represent:

  1. I want to help my girls achieve their dreams financially.
    • My youngest daughter is going to college to become a doctor. She will need my support, not only financially but spiritually, to go the distance.
    • My middle daughter is a cosmetologist, and one day I am going to invest in her salon.
    • My oldest daughter is a teacher; I am helping her to pay her student loans.
  2. I want to learn to play the guitar this year.
  3. I want to take my whole family (all 11 of us) on a tropical family vacation in five years. (Maybe in five years, my family will have grown.)
  4. I want to go to Rome and visit Vatican City in ten years.
  5. I want to eat healthier and walk more starting now!
  6. I want to spend time with my grandchildren and make their dreams come true.


There are many other things on my poster; I just shared a few. But the bottom line is that having life goals only makes me work smarter and harder at my job so that I can attain both my personal and professional goals.

Filed under: Chef Bios
Feb 6, 2014
February 06, 2014 by BOB KARISNY

Have you ever seen flying vegetables, floating pizza crusts, or tumbling French Fries in TV commercials and wondered how it happens? Well, it’s all due to guys like Prop Master Kurt Thoresen. Kurt builds the gadgets that help create “food ballet” for some of Taco John’s TV commercials.

On our last television shoot, we were looking for a waterfall-like tumble of Salsa Tortillas (this tortilla is part of a very exciting new menu item we are introducing at the end of April). So Kurt went to work designing the optimal device that would allow each tortilla to float through the air independent of all the other tortillas and fall in a way that looks like geese landing in a field. Okay, maybe not exactly like that, but pretty cool all the same.

Check out the video of one of my favorite drops (I love the suspense of the last tortilla) and see photos of Kurt in action with his Rube Goldberg device, making the tortillas fly.

Also, keep your eyes and ears open for a fun and tasty new menu item coming to Taco John’s soon.

Filed under: Advertising
Jan 30, 2014
January 30, 2014 by BOB KARISNY

It is hard to look anywhere in our lives and not see the hand of technology helping us do things better. At Taco John’s, we blend foods made in our restaurant with those made in food manufacturing plants. Technology in food manufacturing has allowed us to produce menu ingredients that are of excellent quality, consistency and are as good as what I could have made in our restaurants. Our food manufacturing “teammates” are an extension of our kitchen and take their contributions to great guest meals at Taco John’s very seriously.

One of those contributors is our Nacho Cheese Sauce. Let me start by saying we are very proud of the work that is put into making our Nacho Cheese Sauce, and we think it shows in how much our guests love it. Nacho Cheese Sauce is what we call a concept-identifying flavor, which means our guests love it, and most would say it’s a flavor you can only find at Taco John’s. That flavor starts with the Flash 18 process.

The Flash 18 process isn’t an impromptu singing and dancing event or a program for creating superheroes; it is actually the way our Nacho Cheese Sauce is made, and it is a one of a kind.

I just returned from Trenton, Missouri where I had the chance to observe the Flash 18 process. The first thing I noticed in the manufacturing facility is what kind of looks like a submarine. I have been in many food manufacturing facilities, and I can tell you this is not normal; this is actually the only facility in the country like this. Our cheese sauce is first cooked in a kettle just like one we would use at our restaurants but bigger. It is then superheated (above 250 degrees), which develops its one-of-a-kind flavor and ensures food safety. Normally something that hot can’t be put into a container without boiling over, but that is where the submarine comes in. It is actually a pressurized chamber that packages the Nacho Cheese Sauce under pressure, raising the boiling point and preventing it from boiling over. A couple of people work inside the pressurized chamber, and in order to not get “the bends,” they go through a pressurization process, too.

Flash 18 technology creates a cheese sauce like no other. And unlike a lot of the technology many of us use daily, it was developed in the late 40s. So the next time you are sharing some Nacho Cheese Sauce and Potato Olés®, tell the person you’re with that the deliciousness is all due to the pressure of Flash 18.

Filed under: R & D
Jan 13, 2014
January 13, 2014 by BOB KARISNY

During a recent trip to Mexico City, we were taught to make authentic Mexico City-style Gorditas by Chef Ricardo Muñoz.. Gordita literally translates to “little fat one” (and can be used in a derogatory way), but Chef Muñoz assured us the term Gordita used for this menu item is only used with the utmost respect.

This is a classic fast food or street food in Mexico because it is very easy to eat as you go. In Mexico City they use corn masa for this and, similar to a tamale filling, add lard and some salt to it. In some parts of Mexico they will use wheat flour and make them kind of like a pita bread. I really like the corn masa version because the corn flavor is so tasty with meats, cheeses, veggies and salsa; I’m getting hungry just talking about them. For me they are small, really tasty, corn-flavored, stuffed Mexican pita sandwiches.

To make them, start with corn masa used for making tamales (if you can get fresh be sure to ask for masa for tamales not tortillas; if using dry, make the masa as directed on the bag but don’t add the lard and salt found on the bag’s recipe). For two pounds of masa dough, add two tablespoons of lard and one and a half teaspoon of salt, then mix well to make a Gordita dough. Chef Muñoz added chicharrones right into the dough. Chicharrones here in the United States look kind of like fried pork rinds, but in Mexico there are many variations of chicharrones. He used chicharron prensado, which is more of a dried meat. Since I can’t get chicharron prensado where I live, I made the Gordita dough without it and chose to add meat inside the Gordita with my other stuffings.

Take the finished Gordita dough and form it into about four-ounce balls. Using your hands, form the dough balls into pucks about four inches round and ½ - ¾ inches thick. Place on a pan and cover with plastic wrap until all the Gorditas are made. Heat a cast iron skillet or nonstick pan to low to medium heat and grill the pucks on both sides until you get a light brown toast, then cool. At this point you can hold on to them for a couple of days if you need to.

When you’re ready to eat, take the toasted Gorditas out of the refrigerator and deep or pan fry (about 350 degrees for 45 seconds deep fried and about 30 seconds per side pan fried). Once finished, hold the fried Gordita upright so the edge is facing you, then take a knife and split the Gordita along one half of its edge (see photo). Squeeze it slightly to open the pocket and stuff it with your favorite Mexican meat, cheese, salsa, veggies… whatever you enjoy. They are great to stuff with fresh veggies from your garden in the summer or slow-cooked meat in the winter. If you scale your dough smaller, like an ounce and a half, you can make little Gordita bites for an appetizer.

I hope you have a chance to try a true Gordita like this. It really is different than what you typically see in the U.S. and a great new way to try some of your favorite Mexican foods.





Filed under: Food
Dec 19, 2013
December 19, 2013 by BOB KARISNY

Potato Olés® are certainly a favorite of our guests. So we thought we would share a few ways to use them in your holiday or everyday meals. Check out the recipes below for some “twists” on old favorites.



Potato Olés® Breakfast Casserole                                                                       

Serves 6 - 8

Ingredients:                                                                                       Amount:

Breakfast sausage (bulk not link)                                                      ½ pound

Bacon                                                                                                8 strips

Eggs                                                                                                  6

Half and half                                                                                      2 cups (1 pint)

Shredded cheddar cheese                                                                3 ounces (about a cup)

Potato Olés®                                                                                     2 medium size (about 5 cups)*

Spray oil                                                                                             as needed



  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook sausage into crumbles, cool.
  3. Cook bacon strips, course chop (about ½ to ¾ inch dice), cool.
  4. Crack eggs into a large mixing bowl; add half and half, whisk together to combine.
  5. Add shredded cheddar cheese, sausage, bacon and Potato Olés®; mix together.
  6. Spray a 7 x 11, two-quart Casserole dish with spray shortening. Pour mixture into dish. Cover and hold for a minimum of 30 minutes prior to baking. (This can hold overnight if you choose to make this the night before.)
  7. Remove cover from dish and place in preheated oven at 350 degrees for approximately 40 minutes. (Casserole should be firm when shaken or touched – place a toothpick into the center and it should come out dry.)
  8. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.
  9. Eat as is or top with your favorite salsa, chili or other Mexican sauce.


*Potato Olés® can be purchased and held covered in the refrigerator up to 3 days.

Note: ham can be used in place of ½ or all of the bacon and sausage.


Macaroni and Cheese with a Potato Olés® Crust

Serves 8 – 10 as a side, 6 – 8 as an entree


Ingredients:                                                                                       Amount:                                             

Your Favorite Mac and Cheese                                                         about 6 cups or 2 blue boxes

Potato Olés®                                                                                     1 medium size (about 2 ½ cups)*

Optional: Ham                                                                                    about a cup of ham

Shredded Cheddar Cheese                                                               2 ounces (about ¾ cup)

Optional: Bacon                                                                                 2 strips

Spray oil                                                                                             as needed


  1. Make your favorite macaroni and cheese.
  2. Optional: Course chop (about ½ to ¾ inch dice) ham (possibly leftover ham from your holiday dinner). Heat ham and add to the macaroni and cheese.
  3. Optional: Cook bacon strips, course chop, cool.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  5. Rough chop (about the size of a ¼ Potato Olés®) the Potato Olés®; place into a medium-size mixing bowl, add the shredded cheddar cheese (add chopped bacon if desired).
  6. Spray a 7 x 11, two-quart Casserole dish with spray shortening. Place hot macaroni and cheese into casserole dish.
  7. Cover the macaroni and cheese with the Potato Olés® mixture.
  8. Place in oven for 10 minutes, turn oven to broil and brown (approximately 2 – 3 minutes.)


*Potato Olés® can be purchased and held covered in the refrigerator up to 3 days.

Filed under: Recipes
Dec 17, 2013
December 17, 2013 by BOB KARISNY

At Taco John’s, we use a large variety of methods to generate new menu item ideas. One of those methods is to have an ideation session with current and new food suppliers. All of our vendor teammates bring to us a special expertise, along with a vast wealth of food knowledge.

We just completed an excellent session with our vendor teammate, Haliburton (not related to the large government contract company). Haliburton is based in California, right in the heart of fresh produce, and they create tons of really great sauces, salsas, roasted vegetables, pickled vegetables, and so much more. The quality and freshness of what they make is impressive, just like you would find in a restaurant kitchen. Haliburton sent in an amazing team of four chefs to build and present menu items they felt Taco John’s guests would love.

Jeffrey is our sales representative for Haliburton and his knowledge of Mexican food is so vast he has forgotten more about it than I will probably ever know. He has been going to Mexico since he was seven years old, has a home there, and has eaten his way through every place he has visited in the country. Rich, the director of culinary, was one of my classmates in Veracruz a couple years ago. While he is knowledgeable about the foods of Mexico, he also has an extensive understanding of foods from many parts of the world. One of the menu items he showed us used a green Sriracha sauce (a hot sauce from Thailand), which created an interesting fusion of Asian and Mexican flavors that made everyone in the room say “WOW!” Mike and Jimmy, the other two corporate chefs, have spent countless hours in many kitchens where they learned how to take a menu item from good to great. In all, they showed us eight menu item ideas: 13 sauces and salsas, 12 roasted, caramelized, or cooked vegetables and vegetable blends, four pickled vegetables and vegetable blends, and one soup. AWESOME!

So what do we do with this? Carl and I will look at each concept and review it in the context of a Taco John’s restaurant. Does this feel like something our guests would like? Does it feel like something we could make in our restaurants? And how does it compete with what other restaurants offer? We add those ideas that make the cut to a larger group of ideas; many of these will make the final cut. Sissy will then present them to guests and narrow down the list to “the best.” Then it’s back to Carl to turn the best ideas into real menu items for our restaurants, and Sissy to do a lot more research and refining with our guests (they are the true experts in our process) before it is really ready for our menu.

These types of ideation sessions with our vendor teammates are fun and informative for us. We get to eat some awesome food and get new ideas we would never have thought of. Check out some shots from our session with Haliburton.

Filed under: R & D
Dec 9, 2013
December 09, 2013 by SISSY KRAMER

Life in the test kitchen is pretty busy right now as we plan our 2014 work and strategize on how we'll execute the plan. Right before Thanksgiving, I got a call for assistance from the Yellow Ribbon Program, an organization that helps throughout all phases of a soldier's deployment. It was a perfect opportunity for us to stop, give thanks and reflect on the sacrifices our military and their families make to provide a safer life for us.


“Standing Tall for Service Members for the Holidays” is a program designed to ensure our deployed personnel know Wyoming residents are thinking of them during the season. I put the word out to our office, and we were able to fill care packages for 25 soldiers. The care packages contain anything from books and magazines to snacks, candy and games. (Including Crispy Tacos and Potato Oles® may have been more preferred, albeit challenging.)


Bob, Carl and I filled boxes for mailing, and our Taco John's Donation Committee covered the shipping amount.


Giving back to our military community is just one small way to show our appreciation for their service.




Filed under: R & D
Dec 4, 2013
December 04, 2013 by CARL BLACKBIRD

At the Latin Flavors Symposium in San Antonio I listened to a young chef from Peru, which is the land of ceviche. His heritage is also Japanese and yes, he uses a Vitamix to make his ceviche, not to mention ingredients that go beyond the usual lime, seafood & chile mix .  So, is the food he’s preparing authentic?

The question of authenticity came up over and over during the annual Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus. The annual get-together, which draws celebrity and international chefs, top minds in the food industry across America and food writers, heavily discussed whether it was authentic to make tacos using truffles, a mole with hazelnuts, a flan that mixed the corn fungus huitlacoche and leeks or mango mojito shrimp with a kale topping?

The question went beyond the usual fusion topic - to the issue of whether these creations were authentic representations of the countries they’re associated with.

It seemed that the answers varied from presenter to presenter.  A southwestern food pioneer, Mark Miller (a wealth of knowledge) explained in a wrap-up on the first day that for some, authenticity means using the simplest methods in preparation. For others it seemed that it meant the lack of mechanism or mass production of the food - little is processed and everything is fresh.

Celebrity chef Rick Bayless of Chicago felt his best idea of authenticity has really evolved over time. Early in his career, it meant a look back at the traditions that formed the base of his cooking. Later in life he learned that his food “shouldn’t look backwards only, but take the wisdom of the past” and allowed it to evolve into cuisine that his customers want. Now he believes that authenticity is simply food that rings true to him. 


Getting back to the Peruvian chef, Diego Oka (with a Japanese background), he said  “In Peru, we eat more salty, more spicy,”  so, both had to be cut down for sweet-loving American diners. To do that, he boils his aji amarillos, (a small spicy chile) -the heart of Peruvian cuisine, three times! - to cut down on the heat.

But his Cebiche Cremoso would work perfectly for American tastes, especially those in a hotter climate such as San Antonio’s. “When you think of ceviche, you think of the beach and the sun,” he said.

When you look at this very different looking cebiche, he seems to have captured that in the sun-colored sauce that’s spread over the dish that also features scallops. Yes, lime juice is used, including in a traditional leche de tigre, which Oka said was the “base of all ceviches.”

People don’t know much about Peru, Oka said, so staying true to the heart of the ceviche is important.  “We show our culture through our food,” he said.

Cebiche Cremoso

Leche de tigre:
3 cups lime juice
1 cup light fish stock
1/2 rib celery
1/2 habanero, seeded and deveined
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup ice
1 cup raw fish, such as halibut
1/4 red onion
Salt, to taste

Creamy scallops leche:
5 scallops
4 tablespoons aji amarillo paste (see note)
4 tablespoons aji rocoto paste
5 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup iced Leche de tigre (recipe above)

Chalaca sauce:
1 red onion, diced small
1 tomato, peeled, seeded and diced small
1/2 habanero, seeded and deveined
1/4 cancha corn (Peruvian corn nuts)
1/4 cup choclo (Peruvian corn), boiled
1 tablespoon green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup lime juice

12 Alaskan scallops
Micro cilantro, for garnish

For the leche de tigre:  In a restaurant-style blender, such as a Vitamix, put the lime juice, fish stock, celery, habanero, garlic, fish and ice; blend it for 10 seconds. At the end, add the red onion and cilantro (if it's added at the beginning, it will turn the leche de tigre muddy, which is not desired), and the salt, to taste. Then strain and keep it cool.

For the creamy scallops leche:  Put the scallops and ice in a blender on medium speed, the add the canola oil slowly; once it has a thick texture, add the aji amarillo and the rocoto paste. Season with salt and lime juice. Then slowly add the leche de tigre to the mix.

For the chalaca sauce:  In a bowl, mix the red onion, tomato, habanero, cancha, choclo, green onion, cilantro, lime juice and salt.

To serve:  In a serving bowl, place the scallops and top with the creamy scallops leche. Mix them and serve 2 or 3 pieces in a cold plate. Top with the chalaca sauce and finish with microgreens.

Note: Aji amarillo paste and other South American ingredients can be found at specialty supermarkets such as Whole Foods or Central Market

Makes 4-6 servings.

From Diego Oka/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens  2013


Filed under: Food
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