Famed Latino chef Lorena Garcia has a challenge on her hands –coaxing NASCAR fans to eat healthier when they’re out at the track.
You may remember Garcia from her Taco Bell commercial or her appearances on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters. She gave up being a lawyer to study culinary arts at Johnson & Wales’ South Florida campus. Saturday she was at Charlotte Motor Speedway, serving food in the luxury suites and researching some future menu items for the concession stands.
How would she nudge fans to eat healthier in a world of five-pound grilled cheese sandwiches and deep-fried Snickers bars?
“It’s very challenging to make this point to the masses, but we’re working at it at 6,000 stores,” of the Taco Bell chain, Garcia said. “It can’t be a shock. You can’t turn a ship around with one stroke. Maybe it’s about baking something instead of frying it. Maybe it’s slightly different ingredients.
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“You don’t have to put people on diets, but you do try to make them conscious of their calorie intakes.”
Not that Garcia’s food skimps on flavor. She showed up at the infield media center with Latin-style crab cakes and mango-glazed chicken wings. She’s fallen in love with racing – her favorite drivers are Juan Pablo Montoya and Danica Patrick – and she thinks tracks are ready for more diverse menu options.
“Of course people are drinking, so they need some nourishment, too,” Garcia said. “All the standards are here – the wings, the burgers, the hot dogs. So maybe you try a salad occasionally. It’s what the drivers do.”
Garcia’s path to the culinary world was a hard left turn away from the legal world. She was just finishing law school when she realized that wasn’t how she wanted to spend the next 30 years.
“I got a job offer and realized I’d be miserable sitting in an office, reading cases all day,’’ Garcia said. “I walked into (Johnson & Wales) and fell in love. All I wanted was to put on that chef’s jacket and do it.”
Gluttony Galore: Of course if you dismiss Garcia’s advice about eating healthier, there was access to excess all over the place, food-wise. The most novel variation we discovered was a Krispy Kreme Burger with donuts serving as the bun around a bacon cheeseburger.
A promise kept: John Casey of Lyons, Col., told his 15-year-old daughter he’d take her to Saturday’s race. He didn’t let a flood get in the way of that.
Casey attended the Bank of America 500 with his wife and daughter a month after the floods in Colorado swept the family’s home off its foundation. Casey contacted Charlotte Motor Speedway, saying the tickets he purchased were swept away, too. The track was happy to replace his tickets and the Caseys went ahead with their planned trip.
Casey was in Jacksonville, Fla., for a sales meeting the night of Sept. 13 – yes, Friday the 13th – when he learned his wife led their daughter and her friend away from a wall of water that crested at 15 feet.
Casey said the 4-acre plot where his house sat once looked like a park. “Now it’s a giant gravel pit – like Fred Flintstone’s rock pit.”
Casey said Lyons is a small town of 1,500, and as awful as the damage was, the sense of community – neighbors watching out for each other – has been greater.
“I told my daughter to keep that in her heart,’’ Casey said. “You can always find a way to start over.”
Wind advisory: Target sponsored a hot-air balloon moored just in front of pit road mid-afternoon. The plan was to pick fans at random to get an aerial view of CMS, but wind conditions apparently forced it to cancel.
Repeat on the rope: Wire-walker Nik Wallenda again entertained the crowd, high above Charlotte Motor Speedway about an hour before the start of the race. This time he brought along his sister, Lijana. The pair simultaneously walked toward each other along the suspended rope, with Nik climbing over his sister mid-air to complete the stunt.
Oh, Brother: For Brother Edward Mancuso, a monk at Belmont Abbey, race week becomes family week.
Mancuso gets to travel home to Morristown, N.J., just once a year. So his family – particularly his parents and an aunt and uncle – come to him when Sprint Cup visits Charlotte twice a year.
They all attended Saturday’s race and have done so frequently over the last four years.
“It’s a great family event. We love the atmosphere,’’ said Brother Mancuso, adding the monastery encourages interests beyond religion.
“In the monastery we’re allowed to experience the same things everyone else does,” Mancuso said. “That’s my experience over 10 years.”