Ignacio was faced with a dilemma. Like all other chefs, he was always looking for novel dishes that would draw new customers. Rarely did he have to come up with something new right on the spot.
That’s what happened on that fateful day in 1940. Ignacio was working at the Victory Club restaurant in Piedras Negras, Mexico. One of his regular customers, Mary Finan, brought three friends. Wanting to impress them, she asked the chef if he could bring them something different. They were feeling peckish, but not for anything that was on the menu.
Ignacio’s mind raced as he returned to the kitchen. Pleasing your customers is the first rule for success, but how do you give customers something they want when they can’t even tell you what they are craving?
As he pondered the different options, his eyes fell upon some freshly-fried corn tortillas. In a moment of inspiration that can only be compared to Isaac Newton seeing an apple fall from the tree, Ignacio had an idea.
He placed the tortillas on a plate, added some melted cheese, and threw on a few strips of pickled jalapeño strips. Setting the plates in front of the ladies, Ignacio awaited their verdict.
“This is delicious,” they exclaimed. The hastily-assembled dish disappeared as quickly as they could snatch up the cheese-covered chips. “What do you call this?” they asked. They would certainly be coming back and wanted to be sure what to ask for.
Ignacio thought for a moment. He shrugged and said it should be called his “Special,” and that is how it is known today. Well, sort of. His name is still attached to the dish, but “Special” has been forgotten.
You have probably never heard the name “Ignacio Anaya,” but you certainly are familiar with the dish he created. The snack that was hastily assembled in 1940 still bears his name — his nickname, anyway. No one ever referred to the Victory Club’s chef as “Ignacio.” Everyone knew him as “Nacho.” His brainchild, “Nacho’s Special,” is one of the most popular foods in the world — nachos.
Over the next 35 years, until his death in 1975, “Nacho” saw his creation become unbelievably popular. He was so surprised by its success that by the time he gave any thought to seeking a trademark or other intellectual property protection for his creation, it was too late. The dish and name had taken on a life of their own and entered the public domain.
Today, most people associate nachos with a heaping pile of tortilla chips, topped with an emulsified cheese sauce and a scattering of jalapeño slices. This form of nachos is an innovation of Frank Liberto, who introduced it at a Texas Rangers baseball game in 1976. Other innovations over the years have led to adding various ingredients to the recipe, such as olives, chicken, ground beef, and even seafood. Some restaurants offer “Everything but the Kitchen Sink Nachos,” where the added ingredients all but overwhelm the three ingredients of the original recipe.
One such example of building upon a good thing happened on April 21, 2012, at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. The world’s biggest serving of nachos was prepared, weighing 4,689 lb (2,127 kg) and containing 765 lb (347 kg) of nacho chips, 405 lb (184 kg) of salsa, 323 lb (147 kg) of tomato, 918 lb (416 kg) of meat and beans, and more than 2,200 lb (1,000 kg) of cheese.
Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya’s original recipe is below, recreated from a 1969 interview with the world-changing chef.
RECIPE FOR THE ORIGINAL NACHOS
Makes 12 wafers.
3 corn tortillas
1 cup shredded longhorn cheese, about 3 ounces by weight
1 Tbs Canola Oil
12 Pickled Jalapeño slices
Preheat oven to 350ºF
1. Brush the oil on both sides of each tortilla, cut each into quarters, and bake them in a 350ºF oven for 15 to 20 minutes. They will turn a darker brown, but do not let them burn.
2. Shred the cheese and distribute it among the tortilla triangles. Place a slice of Jalapeño on each.
3. Bake the triangles in a 350ºF oven for about 5 minutes until the cheese is bubbly. Alternately, you can place them under the broiler for a minute or so. Keep a close watch so that they do not burn.