For years, people have begged Chipotle to give them cheese dip. Even Taco Bell has queso, after all. But the burrito chain has always refused. As spokesperson Chris Arnold explained when Vice asked why last year, “To make queso in a way that is stable on the service line pretty much requires artificial ingredients (such as stabilizers to keep its consistency). That’s just not what we do.”
Strange news, then: Chipotle just opened its first public-facing test kitchen today in New York City (504 Sixth Avenue), and among the novel eats on offer are frozen margaritas, buñuelos (the much-anticipated dessert it’s been testing), and, yep, a very legit-looking queso.
According to Eater, CEO Steve Ells sent out a companywide memo today that said: “All of our competitors sell queso, and we know some customers don’t come to Chipotle because we don’t offer it. But because we refuse to use industrial additives, added colors, flavors or preservatives in our food, it’s very difficult to make queso that meets our standards.” Have they cracked the additives-free code? The challenge has foiled good chefs at serious New York restaurants, where the recipe merely has to work for one kitchen. The key to queso is texture — if it gets too runny or too thick, it fails. It’s the one time many people will shamelessly bust out the Velveeta.
Chipotle has yet to make up the ground lost during the food-safety scandal, and its one fix has been to double down on all-natural ingredients. In fact, last summer it posted a YouTube video that made its position on queso unambiguous: The scene was of a fake marketing-team brainstorming session at Chipotle headquarters. Newcomer Larry foolishly suggests adding queso, which elicits a heavy scolding from the team leader. “We do the whole food-with-integrity thing,” he lectures Larry. “Queso has to be made with artificial stabilizers to keep its shiny liquid form. Ever heard of all-natural-goopy cheese? Do you think there’s a magical cow that squirts queso out of its udders?” The scene ends with Larry presumably having learned his lesson.
At the time, Business Insider saw the ad and wondered if Chipotle would regret posting something so overtly “anti-queso,” especially since it was busy rolling out lots of other firsts around that time, and such a strong stance might “alienate potential customers.” Shockingly, the video is now “unavailable” on Chipotle’s YouTube page.