A Bite-Size Battle

Mike Moore photos
Manuela Tagliari stirs a sizzling pan of steak, peppers and onions as teammate Emily Martinez looks on as the two take one final practice cooking their fajita bites before heading to the Iron Taco Culinary Competition hosted by fast food chain Taco John’s.

By Mike Moore mike@glenrockind.com

When Manuela Tagliari came to Wyoming from her home in Brazil in August, she admits the words “Taco John’s” were completely unfamiliar to her.
It didn’t take long for her to find out just who the chain Mexican fast food restaurant was after putting a unique twist on a favorite finger food in her home country.
In fact, she hit the road with sophomore culinary partner Emily Martinez en route to Cheyenne to compete in the 2019 Iron Taco Culinary Competition hosted by the chain.
A foreign exchange student spending her senior year as a newfound member of Herder Nation, Tagliari offered up a suggestion she brought along with her from South America when embarking on the challenge to potentially have the best Mexican dish in the state a few months ago.
“We were trying a whole bunch of different recipes and see which one works best,” she recalled to when the pair started gearing up for the competition over a month ago.
In Brazil, a popular snack among the general population is coxinha - a fried dough food typically filled with chicken and a “Brazil-style” cream cheese.
To better mesh with North American culture, and to give the food more of a Mexican flair, the team opted to switch out the chicken for steak, onions, green peppers and cream cheese. To top it off, it is seasoned with Taco John’s Potato Olés seasoning.
To make it to the statewide finals, the pair first had to overcome a field of 62 teams from around Wyoming. From those teams, only six were selected to visit Taco John’s headquarters in Cheyenne for the Nov. 21 competition.
According to Martinez, perfecting their recipe has been a fun challenge for the girl who hasn’t been involved in many competitions.
“It challenged me,” Martinez said. “I’ve never been in anything super competitive, but now I want to win. I want to be the best.”
She also offered up well-wishes for the other five teams they would face off against, but she’s put in too much work to let up now.
“I’m extremely overconfident in our product,” Martinez continued. “I think it’s a great concept and everyone who tries it loves it.”
What makes the food appealing for the taco chain could potentially be the food’s size and ability to eat with just your fingers.
“It’s great for fast food,” Martinez said. “It’s small, easy to eat and doesn’t fall apart.”
“In Brazil, we were used to them and everyone loves them there,” Tagliari said.
The foreign-exchange student said having an experience like this would never happen in Brazil, so she’s thrilled to get this added experience while here.
Last year, Glenrock’s team of Bryston Jennings and Patrick Bruno took second place at the Iron Taco. The only time Glenrock has won the competition came back in 2007 when Jim Downs and Aric Parkinson won for their grilled Mexican stacker.
Teacher Candace Stoll, who has been guiding the girls to culinary success stated she believes they will do just fine.
“I’m excited,” she said. “I think they will do really well.”
If they win, they will receive $500 scholarships for first place, along with visiting Taco John’s Franchise Support Center to work with the Menu Strategy and Innovation/Operations/Training and Marketing departments to develop training materials and Point-of-Sale materials for their menu item. If the menu item is tested, these materials may be used to introduce and promote the winning menu item in the Taco John’s restaurants in Cheyenne and elsewhere.
Other teams will be coming from Pine Bluffs, Guernsey, Casper, Saratoga and Cheyenne East.


Glenrock Independent

Physical Address:506 W. Birch, Glenrock, WY 82637 Mailing Address: PO Box 109, Douglas, WY 82633 Phone: (307) 436-2211

The Glenrock Independent is located in the Bronco Building

Office hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday - 10:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday - 9:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.

Subscriber Login