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The Accidental Invention of the Best Snack Food Ever

Friends, we are blessed to live in the gilded, Yukon-golden era of “Peak Chip.” Much like the craft beer explosion before it, the fried potato revolution has been swift, artisanal and, above all, delicious. Kettle-cooked, locally sourced or avocado oil fried—whatever you can imagine in the culinary realm of possibilities, there’s a chip and a flavor for you. What a time to be alive! And if it weren’t for a pissed-off haute cuisine chef trying to get a customer to shut up, the potato chip as we know it would never have come to be.

So what’s the story behind this most superior of snacks? Back in the 1850s, the chip’s equally praiseworthy cousin, the French fry, was new to America, and it was big. Not like supersize big, but like cultural-shift big. No one on this side of the Atlantic had ever had such a delicious dish, and top chefs all over the U.S. offered French fries as their crème de la crème signature dish to showcase both their culinary mastery and their up-to-the-minute trendiness.

One of these chefs was George Crum, the head honcho at the Moon Lake House in Saratoga Springs, New York. His restaurant was a big deal, attracting celebrities of the time to dine on his “potatoes served in the French manner.” One such celebrity was business mogul and industrialist elite Cornelius Vanderbilt, who came to the Moon Lake House to get his French-fried fix. However, he sent plate after plate of Crum’s specialty back to the kitchen, not finding them crispy enough to his liking.

This made Crum lose it in a way that would have sent Gordon Ramsay scurrying to hide in the meat locker. He decided to fire back by making the thinnest, crispiest, most fried-within-an-inch-of-their-lives potatoes to show Vanderbilt who was the real boss in the Moon Lake kitchen.

Guess what? Vanderbilt LOVED them. He loved them so much, he ordered more. As other folks heard of these “Saratoga chips,” they began ordering their potatoes cut super-thin and super-fried as well. They were a sensation, and Crum’s revenge turned out to be even bigger and better than he imagined, as he had, in his spite, started a whole new snack craze.

So as we reap the addictive, delicious benefits of the ingenious innovators who elevate the common chip to crafty new heights, we should always remember: Behind every crumb, there’s Crum. Crum and his delicious revenge. Crunch on.

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