TJ® Kitchen

Some might say a job in the Taco John’s Test Kitchen is one of the best in the world. Follow our Corporate Chef Bob Karisny and his team members Sissy and Carl as they stir up new menu creations and research today’s food trends. They might even throw in a few recipes.

Eating Internationally with Friends

Eating Internationally with Friends            

I grew up in a blended ethnicity family, third or fourth generation in the United States, with not much of our original ethnic connection left. My grandmother made Polish sausage for the holidays, but after she left that went away. I am not sure if it is missing those iconic ethnic food connections I grew up with or just my overall passion for food and its roots, but when someone cooks and teaches me about their “home food,” I am humbled.

To feed (literally and figuratively) my food curiosity I belong to a “Foodies” group – people who love to eat, cook and share food, try new recipes and socially talk the same language as me, the language of food. Recently I was honored to be invited to a couple of events where two members of our group cooked their native food.

Marilou is my friend from the Philippines and has shared many individual dishes from her home in the past, but this time we experienced a whole meal of Filipino food. It was a thank you from her and her nephew for helping him after the terrible tsunami a couple years ago in the Philippines. I won’t do justice to properly naming all of the dishes, but as you can see from the pictures we had delicious pork belly, shrimp and whole fish, an amazing ceviche (cold raw fish dish cured in citrus juices), noodles, paella (rice dish with meats, seafood and sausages), and Halo Halo. I remember the name Halo Halo because, well, it’s easy to remember but mostly because it means “mix mix.” Halo Halo is an ice cold, sweet dessert made using crushed ice, ice cream, candied fruits and beans, flan, coconut, sweet sauces, jams and the list goes on. All this is put into a parfait-like glass and layered in a specific manner. Then, you’re given a long spoon and “mix mix,” combining all of this sweet goodness into an ice cold treat like none I’ve ever tasted. There are lots of recipes online to make Halo Halo, but don’t get discouraged if you see many ingredients you’ve never heard of or feel you could never find. If you have an Asian grocery, they are very helpful and can help you find ingredients, or you can substitute sweet and candied fruits and jams you can find in the grocery store.

Haresh is my friend from India, and like Marilou he has shared many individual dishes in the past. This time he did a whole meal as a teaching and eating event where us “Foodies” helped cook and learned from his expertise. Indian cooking is so fascinating and mysterious to me. The way they use spices is personalized to each family’s recipes, much like how in Mexico a family’s Mole has the personality of the family who makes it. Garam Masala is a spice blend you will see in many Indian dishes, but families make and blend their Garam Masala to their taste. Curry is not a yellow stew-like dish that always has the same flavor. There are many, many curries, and in my simplest terms, curry is like a stew seasoned with a variety of spice combinations.  Again, I would not do the traditional names justice, but in the photos you can see that we tried Paneer, which is made using an Indian cheese. We had some amazing grilled chicken skewers where Haresh not only used spices for marinating but also used yogurt. He sprouted his own mung beans, and he used them in a Warm Carrot and Bean Sprout salad. To make the flavors that are so distinct in Indain food we toasted spices, caramelized onions and layered flavors on top of each other. Haresh made it look so easy, but the flavors were quite complicated.

I am not sure if I was more impressed by the amazing food Marilou and Haresh made for us or just the pride they had sharing their country’s and family’s food. One thing I do know is that I want to cook more of it. I already have an idea for a fusion taco using Marilou’s pork belly, sauce and green mango salad. And I want to make a dish that requires Garam Masala so I can make it over and over until I have my family’s recipe. Oh, and next for the “Foodies,” we are going to cook with monks. I will let you all know how that goes.

Discovering Austin

Discovering Austin, TX Food Trucks

My last visit to Food trucks | wilbertbaan | Flickr

Austin was unfortunately the week after the city had been taken over by South by Southwest.  I may of missed this amazing music festival but had another amazing opportunity to experience the city's eclectic, taco trendy and tasty cuisine!  

Austin’s food trucks serve delicious tacos on the streets or in these “trailer park” block lots all year round - where you can visit and try any number of trucks.  These parks are the perfect way to sample a huge and diverse variety of treats (and am sure they fed the thousands of concert goers during the festival I missed by a week!)

Jeff Clark one of our vendor chefs, he is from the area - took Bob and I on a two day food tour of a bunch of great places to eat all over Austin.  Here is a list of just a few of Austin's finest and some of the dishes we experienced!

“The Peached Tortilla” served Southern and Asian flavors to perfection. I just read that this truck is so popular that they will be opening a brick and mortar location this fall.  One of my favorites there was the BBQ Brisket taco.  It had dry rubbed brisket, a creamy apple slaw and a delicious smoky roasted peach BBQ sauce.

Another called “Chi'lantro” does the fusion cuisine that reminds me of the amazing Kogi Food truck in L.A.   The Korean-Mexican hybrid combines two of the most perfect foods -- tacos and kimchi.   One of their must-order items are the kimchi fries, which are smothered in cheese, sriracha and a creamy "magic" sauce. They are then topped off with caramelized kimchi and Korean BBQ. This sweet, tangy, savory and spicy dish was one of my favorites! 

At the top of my list was “Torchy's Tacos”, and they have “Damn Good” tacos, enough said!  These guys are Austin natives and they take their tacos seriously. One of my favorites (I have a few) is the Trailer Park taco. This taco starts with a flour tortilla, is filled with fried chicken, green chiles, lettuce, pico de gallo, shredded cheese and a poblano sauce. You can also order it Trashy and they will sub the lettuce with their queso, yes - they will cover your taco in queso.  


These were just three of so many tasty places we ate at, I could go on and on . . . there were a number of other restaurants not trucks that we also tried that were equally amazing!  To be continued . . . 

Never pass by a restaurant with a pig on the roof

Sweet Spicy Glazed PorkI know there have been many books published about life lessons we learned in kindergarten. Here’s another life lesson I never learned in culinary school but should have: never pass by a restaurant that has a pig on the roof.

Hospitality Sponsorship

Hospitality  SponsorshipEvery year the city of Cheyenne hosts Cheyenne Frontier Days. For 10 days, the old west is brought back to modern day where daily rodeos, night concerts, carnivals, and many more activities that capture the Wild West are celebrated. It is a pretty big deal that has been a tradition since 1897.

Avocado Grove Visit

Avocado Grove FarmAt a recent chefs convention I had the chance to visit an avocado grove just outside of San Diego. Mike Sanders and Chris Ambuul are the owners of the grove. I always find after visiting the source, my appreciation for all the effort it takes to grow almost anything increases. The Haas avocado is a true California native, although it is grown in other parts of the world. All trees are the kin of one tree founded by Southern California mail carrier and amateur horticulturist, Rudolph Haas. We actually have his kids to thank because Rudolph bought three trees, and after a while thought one tree wasn’t doing as well and was ready to pull it out. His kids said, “Dad, have you tried the fruit from that tree? It’s delicious,” and the Haas avocado was born.

Paletas, Mexican Frozen Fruit Pops

Paletas are frozen fruit pops on a stick, similar to our Popsicles but made from the freshest fruit of the season. There are two types of paletas: Paletas de Agua, which are typically made of fresh fruit, water and sweetener (typically sugar) and Paletas de Leche or Paletas de Crema, which are made of milk or cream with fresh fruit and/or flavorings like nuts, chocolate, etc.

Rubs & Marinades

Rubs are seasoning mixtures rubbed on meats before grilling to boost flavors; they could be spicy or smoky, etc. The best rubs enhance the flavor of the meat without being overbearing and are often blends of strong and mild spices and herbs. When you add oil or another wet substance, it is called a wet rub.

Elote - Sweet Corn on the Cob

Sweet Corn SalsaSummer is sweet corn season, and for a twist on your normal corn on the cob we have Elote. Corn is a native plant of Mexico, and there it’s a staple eaten in some form almost every day. There are many types of corn grown, and based upon the final corn they produce, it is assigned to different applications. Unlike in the United States, Mexico’s fresh corn (both on and off the cob) can be sweet or earthier in flavor depending upon the final dish it is used in.

Spicy, Yummy Mexican Influenced Recipes for Summer

Please accept our apologies for being remiss in our blog posts recently. As a gift to make up for our absence, we will provide four weeks of easy summer recipes with a Mexican flair. To start week one, we have “Three Easy Summer Salsas” you can use for chips, appetizers or to top great grilled items.

Bob Karisny, Corporate Chef, Taco John's®

Food is more than a job for me – it’s a passion. I would rather cook than do almost anything. Although I love all types of food and cuisine from around the world, the more I learn about Mexican food, the more I realize how interesting and flavorful it is.