© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

San Antonio chef reimagining Taco Bell's Crunchwrap Supreme talks food, cultural influences

A San Antonio chef has been tapped by Taco Bell to kick off an inaugural culinary program and re-imagine the iconic Crunchwrap Supreme.

Jennifer Dobbertin, chef and owner of Best Quality Daughter near the Pearl, is one of chefs chosen across the country to participate in Taco Bell’s TBX program.

She discussed the collaboration, her food, and her influences.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Dobbertin: Myself and two other chefs in the nation are the inaugural chefs — we were the ones that were picked. It is this guy Ruben based in Philadelphia and this guy Lawrence based in Phoenix. And we are tasked or assigned to re-imagine the Crunchwrap Supreme. In the long run, they're going to make it this program that any chef in the nation can apply for.

Navarro: We're sitting in Best Quality Daughter right now, which has Asian American fusion food with a South Texas flair. Can you explain a little bit about your food and how your cultural heritage has kind of influenced what you make, and the kind of food that you serve to people? 

Dobbertin: When people ask what kind of food I’m cooking, I just try to cook food that represents my experience versus trying to chase after authenticity or reinventing something for the sake of it.

I have my life experiences growing up in South Texas. I was born and raised in San Antonio. I have the quintessential San Antonio experience. I grew up on the West Side, but my mom is Chinese, and they owned a restaurant but it wasn't a Chinese restaurant — it was like a diner. So, I grew up eating South Texas food just being from San Antonio, but also eating lots of Chinese food because my mom was Chinese. And then I just have a very Texan experience, but with a Chinese swing on it.

And then I moved abroad after college. For six years I lived in Bangkok, and that was in my very impressionable 20s. Everything is kind of a mash up of South Texas — or San Antonio really — meets Chinese meets Southeast Asian with a lot of my travel experience mixed in there.

Jennifer Hwa Dobbertin, chef and owner of Best Quality Daughter at the Pearl, was one of three chefs selected to take part in Taco Bell's inaugural TBX program. Dobbertin is tasked with putting her spin on the popular menu item.

Navarro: Looking to the Crunchwrap, is there any, snack, Chinese food, Asian food, that you have had in the past or that you know of that's maybe kind of similar to it or that has similarities to something like this?

Dobbertin: Yes. I think every culture has a vegetable and meat wrapped in dough with crunchy texture in it. If you look hard enough, that exists. My mom is from Taiwan, and her parents are from the mainland. They fled the civil war and moved — “moved” — they fled the civil war to Taiwan in the in the late 40s. So, my mom was born in Taiwan, but she is Chinese.

But in Taiwan — they have them in China, too, but very specific to Taiwan — they have these ... they’re called fantuan but I call them a Chinese breakfast burrito because it's like sticky rice, and then sometimes you can put a fried egg or an omelet in it. And pickles, like a pickled radish. And sometimes a sweet bean paste. And they roll them up and they have all this crunch in them, and it looks kind of like a sushi roll.

They're very ubiquitous to Taiwanese breakfast. I think of that because it is like starch, crunchy vegetable, meat [that's] ubiquitous to Taiwan, like [the] Crunchwrap is ubiquitous to Taco Bell.

Navarro: Every culture has their own take, right? Like a tortilla, every culture has their own take on that. 

Dobbertin: Exactly. Absolutely. There's roti, you know, everybody has … it's such a staple. In northern China, my grandfather was a pastry chef, and so he used to make these — I didn't get to meet him. He passed away before I was born.

But the thing that he would make, which is one of my favorite Chinese pastries, they're like these sesame buns that are that you cut open and you stuff them. For breakfast, you can stuff them with bean paste and stuff.

So, they hollow them out and they stuffed them with usually like minced pork meat and leeks. And that's a really good dish because I feel like also it's like crunchy bread and stuffing.

Navarro: Looking forward, do you have any ideas of what you plan to do for your version of the Crunchwrap?

Dobbertin: Yeah. I think now that I have somewhat of a timeline, we're going back out to the test kitchen this spring, and from there, I must have more solid ideas to pitch. I have a notes list in my phone of ideas, and I would say 80% of them are really dumb, so I kind of work through them.

The great thing about Taco Bell is they really gave us no limitations. They’re not like, ‘You have to do Asian food. You have to do something that's Best Quality Daughter.’ It was like, do what you want. It just has to be in the shape of a Crunchwrap. I have a lot of ideas, but zero of them have been actualized.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Arts & Culture News Desk including The Guillermo Nicolas & Jim Foster Art Fund, Patricia Pratchett, and the V.H. McNutt Memorial Foundation.