How Were Potato Chips Invented?

Those of you who know me personally will be aware of the fact that I spent many years working as a waitress. My close friends in particular have been repeatedly exposed to lengthy rants about some truly horrific customers and the ways in which I would subtly punish them.

The Gobbledok – Potato chip enthusiast

Here’s just a small taste of the things I’ve done to patrons in my time:

Crime: The customer dared to click at me.

Punishment: I purposely moved his order to the end of the queue on a busy Saturday Night.

Crime: The boozed up customer forgot what main he ordered and then blamed me when I didn’t bring him “what he wanted.” This was a particularly stupid move because he and his wife were regulars but he was currently sitting next to someone in the 21 -25 age bracket who definitely wasn’t his daughter.

Pretending his credit card was declined in order to embarrass him in front of his lady friend.

Crime: This group of women were self-important and incredibly rude. They spouted classic one liners such as “Oh, the red-head is at least at university. That other one is just a waitress.”
For lunch they slammed down cream based pastas and double servings of garlic bread. They then proceeded to order quarter strength skinny caramel lattes with artificial sweetener because they were dieting. Their hypocrisy aside, no one should disrespect coffee like that.

Punishment: Full cream milk and sugar as well as convincing them to have a second cup since they were “only drinking skim.”

The lesson – always be incredibly nice to people who are in control of your food. There are service staff out there who will be far more creative than myself in regards to how they will mess with you if you’re a jerk.

It’s due to my exposure to the vile underbelly of the service industry that I particularly like the story behind the accidental invention of the potato chip.

George Crum – Potato chip inventor and alleged vengeful man

Our tale starts way back in 1853 in Saratoga Springs, New York. There we find a young chef by the name of George Crum who is being subjected to the relentless torture of an overly picky customer. The unhappy gentleman was continuously sending plates of french fried potatoes back to the kitchen because he found them to be too thick and soft.

One source contends that Crum was known for literally dishing out punishments to customers who irritated him –

“The few who did complain and returned their orders to the kitchen, were rewarded with the most indigestible substances the chef could concoct.   His somewhat irascible nature made him commit mayhem on many a returned meal.   It pleased him to watch their reaction, which ranged from disbelief to a hurried departure.”

The possible validity of this source aside, Crum was thoroughly irritated in this particular instance and decided to teach the impossible to please patron a lesson.

Firstly, he took a fresh batch of potatoes and sliced them as thinly as he could. He then fried them until they were overcooked, ie – hard and crunchy. Finally, to top them off, he added an overly generous heaping of salt. Quite please with himself, Crum sent the pile of dismembered french fries back to the customer.

It was at this point that fate stepped in because, much to Crum’s surprise, the dish ended up being a hit with the patron and thus a new snack was born. The chips became incredibly popular and were subsequently known as ‘Saratoga chips’ or ‘potato crunches’ before eventually being universally recognized as potato chips. Years later Crum would open his own restaurant where he placed bowls of his tasty invention on every table.

Unfortunately, there is a possible dampener to this story. Some sources indicate that other cooks may have been serving thinly sliced fried potatoes garnished with salt years before Crum. There are also several recipes for incredibly similar concoctions that definitely predate 1853. However, none of these creations became commercial successes, nor were named a potato chip. As such, I’m more than happy to accept this as the origin story of our delicious and crunchy friend.