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BURRITOS & TORTILLAS

Published: Tuesday, May 28 1996 12:00 a.m. MDT

Fifty years ago, persuading Salt Lakers to buy Mexican food was a tough sell.

But holy frijole! Times have changed!Frozen Food Age Magazine has named Salt Lake City #1 in the frozen Mexican food market.

And Lynn Wilson deserves a heap o' credit for bringing about Utah's amazing Burrito Boom.

The man who turned a culture spoon-fed on meat and potatoes to spicy tamales and chili also changed a fledgling salad-making operation into a major regional force in the fresh and frozen foods business.

And just what do the bean-counters consider major? Try $131/2 million in sales last year.

Wilson was working for merchant/mogul Maurice War-shaw at Grand Central's deli in 1938. As the story goes, Wilson would be making cole slaw and macaroni salads and then have to leave his messy mixing to wait on customers at the counter.

According to company president David Wilson (his father passed away in 1993), "He started thinking, `Why don't we make salads and take them out to all the stores so they don't have to bother with preparation?' "

That brainstorm led Lynn Wilson into the salad business.

"But when September came, he realized that he needed more depth in his product line to take him through the winter," says his son.

Times were tough, and entrepreneurs had to really scramble. A duplex near Trolley Square was Wilson's home factory; he and his wife lived on one side and cooked up the products in the other half of the building.

Wilson made rounds to merchants around town, selling his ever-expanding line of prepared foods.

Although Mexican products weren't initially favored ("sometimes he'd go into a store with four and come out with two"), Lynn Wilson tamales and chili eventually became localfavorites.

Lynn Wilson's Products factory was built in 1959, where production would include steaks, TV dinners and meat pies.

Eventually, Wilson realized that his operation couldn't keep up with the big manufacturers (like Hormel) and maintain the high quality he demanded.

The company wisely decided to concentrate on a more specialized product (burritos make up 60 percent of the company's product).

Dave Wilson, who began working at his father's factory at the age of 14, continues the push for maintaining Lynn Wilson's products' excellent reputation.

We were interested mostly in seeing the birth of burritos, which are presently a hot (no pun here) nationwide phonenemon - so we took a tour of the Lynn Wilson's Fine Foods factory.

After donning white smocks and poufy hairnets, we began the journey to Tortilla Flats.

The tortilla is born of flour and vegetable shortening and then blended in huge hoppers and dropped into a giant rolling pin contraption.

The thin dough cruises along at a swift pace, being met with large "cookie cutter" molds that stamp out circular shapes.

These flattened flour shells are then run through several twists and turns in an oven-like machine and eventually are packaged or used as burrito shells.

Homestyle, or thicker, tortillas are manufactured differently, beginning with small dough balls that are flattened out by a press.

As automated as the tortilla routine is, burrito-making is a hands-on affair.

"We paid $69,000 for a burrito rolling machine and it didn't work as well as using real people," said Dave Wilson.

So Wilson's employs people to hand-roll burritos; Bean and Cheese is Lynn Wilson's best-selling choice.

Several burrito-rollers stand on each side of a conveyer belt (listening to loud music to break the monotony) and grab passing tortillas that have been dabbed with the burrito mixture du jour.

Deftly folding and rolling the doughy pocket, the nimble workers can whip out 20 to 24 a minute.

The rolled burritos then travel through a quality detector and into a huge flash-freezing compartment. Then onto another moving machine that delivers the frozen product to the employees who hand-pack the boxes. (Individual burritos are machine-wrapped in microwaveable wrappers).

We completed our burrito adventure in the company's test kitchens, where Research and Development Manager Barbara Doolin and Director of Research and Development Fonda Sperry prepared samples of Lynn Wilson products.

The two have developed the new Lynn Wilson no-fat tortilla, using applesauce instead of shortening; and pleasantly, the product is a delicious alternative from other brands of tortillas made with lard (no Lynn Wilson's tortillas are made with lard).

According to Marvin Van Dam, executive vice president, new products are being developed to place Lynn Wilson's Products as players in new markets and territories, like the line of what they call Premium Mexican Specialties.

"They waddle and quack like a burrito, but they're not," he says.

Actually, they're an upscale burrito-type hand-held pocket that can compete with Hot Pockets (but taste much better).

And Lynn Wilson's Products continues to reinvent itself.

Company executives are currently working out the details for their factory to produce kosher burritos for a West Coast company.

So why all the success and growth for this once-tiny mom-and-pop operation?

We think it lies in a simple motto maintained by Lynn Wilson: "Be the best you can."

*****

Recipes

CAESAR STEAK SANDWICHES

1 package 8-inch Lynn Wilson "Lite" Tortillas

4 ounces light process cream cheese product

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon skim milk

1 teaspoon low sodium Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt-free lemon pepper

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 pound thinly-sliced deli roast beef

12 Romaine lettuce leaves

Fresh watercress sprigs (optional)

Beat cream cheese in a small bowl at medium speed of a electric mixer until smooth. Add Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, skim milk, Worcestershire, lemon pepper and garlic powder; stir well. Spread cream cheese mixture on tortillas. Top with roast beef and lettuce leaves. Roll up tortilla jellyroll fashion. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill 2 hours. Cut roll into 6 slices. Garnish with watercress, if desired. Makes 6 rolls.

- Each roll contains 203 calories, 6g fat, 727mg sodium, 38mg cholesterol, 52% calories from fat.

- From Lynn Wilson's Fine Foods

CARNE CON CHILE VERDE

2 1/2 pound pork roast, cut into chunks

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 cups water

2-3 tablespoons peanut oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

12 green chiles (such as Anaheim), charred and peeled and cut into squares, or 3-4 small cans green chiles (to taste)

2 small tomatoes, about 1/2 pound, chopped

Cook pork roast with garlic, salt and water on top of the stove on low/simmer (or in a 300 degree F. oven), covered, until meat shreds, about 2 hours. Remove meat from bones and return to pan. Remove all but 1 tablespoon fat and liquid. Add about 2 tablespoons oil. Turn the heat to medium, then add onion and brown meat lightly. Sprinkle flour into the pan and let it brown lightly, stirring constantly. Add chiles, tomatoes and about a cup of water, then cover the pan and cook over low heat another 20 minutes. (At the end of the cooking time there should be some liquid in the pan, but it should not be soupy; simmer a few more minutes with the pan uncovered to reduce liquid, if necessary.) Adjust the seasoning and serve hot with flour tortillas. Serves 6.

- Each serving contains 449 calories, 19g fat, 485mg sodium, 181mg cholesterol, 41% calories from fat.

- Adapted from "Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico" by by Diana Kennedy

SPINACH-FILLED TORTILLA ROLLS WITH BASIL-TOMATO SAUCE

2 14 1/2-ounce cans no-salt whole tomatoes, undrained

1 cup minced fresh basil

1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

1 15-ounce carton lite ricotta cheese

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 8-inch Lynn Wilson "Lite" Flour Tortillas

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Vegetable cooking spray

Position knife blade in food processor; add tomato. Pulse 6-8 times or until tomato is coarsely pureed. Transfer tomato to medium saucepan, add basil. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes, stirring frequently. Combine spinach, ricotta cheese, eggs, and salt; stir well. Spoon spinach mixture evenly down the center of the tortillas. Roll up tortillas; place seam side down in a 9 X 13-inch baking dish coated with vegetable cooking spray. Spoon tomato mixture over tortillas and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 375 degrees F. for 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Serves 6.

- Each serving contains 255 calories, 4g fat, 537mg sodium, 13mg cholesterol, 30% calories from fat.

- From Lynn Wilson's Fine Foods

SCRAMBLED BREAKFAST BURRITO

Vegetable cooking spray

1/2 cup chopped sweet red peppers

2 tablespoons sliced green onions

1 cup frozen egg substitute, thawed

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoon skim milk

1/4 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

2 ounces grated reduced fat Monterey jack or cheddar cheese

8 Lynn Wilson "Fat Free" Homestyle tortillas

1/2 cup Lynn Wilson Mild Salsa

Coat a medium nonstick skillet with cooking spray; place over medium-high heat until hot. Add sweet red pepper and green onions; saute until tender. Combine egg substitute with Parmesan cheese, skim milk, Italian seasoning and white pepper; beat well vdth a wire whisk. Pour over red pepper/onion mixture in skillet; cook over medium heat until egg substitute mixture is firm but still moist, stirring occasionally. Heat tortillas in microwave for 10 seconds each. Spoon egg substitute mixture into center of each tortilla. Sprinkle with grated cheese. Roll by folding one edge over 1/4 of mixture, then fold side over and roll. Microwave for 30-40 seconds until cheese is melted. Serve with salsa. Serves 8.

- Each serving contains 188 calories, 2g fat, 482mg sodium, 7mg cholesterol, 43 % calories from fat.

- From Lynn Wilson's Fine Foods

DIP 'N' DRAPE TACO SALAD BOWLS

6 flour tortillas (10-inch size)

1 1/2 teaspoons cooking oil

Water

For 10-inch tortillas, set 2 empty food cans (4 inches wide) 3 to 4 inches apart on a 14 X 17-inch foil-lined baking sheet. Drape a 12-inch foil square over top of each can. Fill a rimmed (about 3/4-inch deep) container (a pizza pan works well) with about 1/2 inch water, and add 1/4 teaspoon of the cooking oil. Quickly immerse 1 tortilla in water; lift out, and drain. Drape damp tortilla over foil-draped can. If you place the tortilla slightly off center; the finished bowl will have a tall, dramatic ruffle on one side. If you have room for another tortilla on the pan, add another 1/4 teaspoon oil to water, dip and drape. Bake tortillas in a 450 degree F. oven until lightly browned and firm enough to hold their shape, 4 to 5 minutes. Carefully lift the hot tortillas off cans (use pot holders), set cans aside, and place tortillas, cup sides up, on pan. Return to oven and bake until tortillas feel crisp, 2 to 3 mhutes longer. Cool on rack. Repeat steps until all taco bowls are made. Use warm or cold. Fill with favorite salad recipe. Makes 6.

- Each bowl contains 124 calories, 4g fat, 167mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol, 26% calories from fat.

- From Sunset Magazine

- NOTE: Cool tortilla shells will keep in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

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