One code-locked door later, we're in the Test Kitchen, a gleaming stainless-steel taco workshop where it smells like -- surprise! -- Taco Bell. Here I meet Senior Marketing Manager Kat Garcia, who has worked for the company on and off since the '90s and invented the Double Decker Taco, which remains on Taco Bell's menu. I'm also introduced to Product Development Manager Steve Gomez.
With a shaved skull, gym physique, and background in food science, Gomez is the guy who makes Taco Bell's stunt-food concepts into reality. Working closely with Garcia, he has developed the Doritos Locos Taco, the Quesalupa, and, most recently, the Naked Chicken Chalupa. He says the turnaround time on most product ideas is six to nine months, though the Doritos Locos Taco took three years and untold variations based on roughly 30 to 40 recipes. When I ask Gomez to estimate how many DLTs he had to eat during those years, he just starts laughing. "If I said a couple thousand shells, it probably sounds like I'm exaggerating," he says. "I've had way, way too many shells. I've had my quota for life."