Rene Pisciotti isn’t big on titles. “Executive Chef…Taco Whisperer…Recipe Innovator…Creator, you can call me whatever you want,” he says.
After 12 years at Taco Bell, though, Pisciotti—a formally-trained chef with a master’s degree in Food Science and Nutrition—has been the driving force behind the fast food chain’s never-ending list of increasingly outrageous menu items (including the popular nacho fries.) “There’s a team of us here of about ten chef-scientists, and we’re on point for creating all the new innovations,” he tells PEOPLE. “We test all of the items, and some launch, but most don’t. That’s really my day job.”
In recent years, the brand has put more resources toward buzz-generating events and activations, like their annual Friendsgiving dinner, an over-the-top fan wedding in Las Vegas, and, most recently, a themed pop-up resort called The Bell, which will be open for four days in Palm Springs this August. For these, Pisciotti gets to really put his culinary expertise to use. “I’m absolutely fascinated with the dining scene and culture, particularly in L.A.,” he says. “I study menus, and what I try to do is curate dishes based on my experiences eating out, and then incorporate as much Taco Bell into them as possible.”
For The Bell—which sold out two minutes after opening up reservations—Pisciotti has spent the last five months testing menu items that he thinks will surprise guests without abandoning the flavors they know and love.
Two of the chef’s favorite dishes that have made it on the menu are the avocado toast, which is topped with sliced radishes and a crumble of “diablo puffs” (a creation of his that he likens to a vegan chicharon and is made with Taco Bell’s signature diablo sauce), and chilaquiles, a Mexican egg dish that is typically made with stale tortillas which get replaced with the chain’s spicy fire tortilla chips in Pisciotti’s version.
Poolside favorites will also be featured, like his twist on a Caesar salad and a club sandwich that uses a cheddar chalupa shell in lieu of bread (served alongside a pile of nacho fries.)
Room service will be available for breakfast only—”it was getting too complicated trying to manage a full poolside menu and room service menu,” says Pisciotti—but will feature a build-your-own breakfast taco bar with all of the fixings. “You can hang out in your air-conditioned room at your own leisure and make some tacos and get ready for your day,” he says.
The resort will also provide Taco Bell classics like Doritos Locos Tacos and bean burritos, and offer guests an early taste of products that are in development but have not yet popped up on menus, like the Toasted Cheddar Chalupa.
The chain’s signature Baja Blast will also make an appearance in frozen slushie form as the “Baja Blast Birthday Freeze” in honor of the bright-green beverage’s 15th birthday, and there will be a “Freeze Lounge” for guests to enjoy it in—a likely necessity given the temperatures in Palm Springs in August.
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The process of creating a menu that will live up to high expectations has been “daunting and exhausting,” says Pisciotti. “I probably have between 100 and 150 draft menus, and every hour of every day I go in and make a small tweak here, a small tweak there,” he adds. “From day one through day four, everything has to be on and it has to be perfect. It’s pretty intense, but it energizes me. I have absolutely loved it.”
Beyond the food, the resort promises to provide a fully-immersive fan experience, with Taco Bell-branded robes, hot sauce packet pool floats, and an on-site gift shop filled with exclusive taco apparel. Truly committed guests can even book an appointment at the salon, which will offer “Taco Bell-inspired nail art, fades and a braid bar,” according to a press release.
The Bell: A Taco Bell Hotel and Resort will officially open in Palm Springs on August 8, 2019 with a final check-out date of August 12.