While history has been dotted with fortuitous discoveries (penicillin and Velcro come to mind), arguably none has been tastier than the potato chip: America’s favorite snack food, devoured at a rate of 1.6 billion pounds annually. Born of one happy accident, it’s now been reborn from another.
That happy accident occurred in 1853 at the Moon’s Lake House restaurant in Saratoga Springs, NY. According to City Historian Maryann Fitzgerald, Chef George Krum was rightfully proud of his fried potatoes, and subsequently insulted when a customer rejected them as too soggy. In an inspired act of revenge, Krum sliced potatoes extra thin, plunged them into oil until thoroughly crisp, dredged them with salt, and served them to the complainant—who consumed them with gusto. And so the potato chip came to be. (Interesting side note: Krum was both African-American and Native-American, which in those days disqualified him from getting a patent on his discovery.)
Not surprisingly, potato chips have become something of a cottage industry in Saratoga Springs, celebrated in the town’s annual Chip Festival. While the festival has opened its doors to non-spud entries, it’s clear that the Potato Chip Committee knows the real deal: potatoes, finely sliced, fried in some type of oil, and seasoned to suit a variety of tastes. The committee’s evaluative criteria are simple: appearance, crispiness, and overall taste.
It’s the subject of appearance that leads us to the second happy accident in potato chip history. Over the years, according to Chip Memorabilia Collector Alan Richer, countless hours and dollars have been invested in product packaging to keep potato chips from breaking. The intact chip was deemed the perfect chip, until FailChips burst onto the scene.
In an inspired act of revenge, Krum sliced potatoes extra thin, plunged them into oil until thoroughly crisp, dredged them with salt, and served them to the complainant—who consumed them with gusto.
The answer is nuanced, depending on whom you ask. The aforementioned Potato Chip Committee unanimously agrees that a crushed chip would not be disqualified from its “Best of Chip” competition.
Michael Amato of Nutley, NJ—world record-holder for most potato chips eaten in a single minute—has a different interpretation. As a champion snacker, he states that crushed chips are an issue insofar as record are concerned, in that competition rules call for full chips only. On a personal level, though, he confesses that for all the chips he’s eaten, he’s never gotten sick of them—and he’s intrigued with FailChips’ personal-size, tear-and-pour packaging.
But the truest test of FailChips’ chip-worthiness can be found at retail, particularly at The Healthway Deli on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, NY—epicenter of millennial snacking. The bodega’s co-managers Mo and Mustafa carry an extensive selection of chips, carefully monitoring the comings and goings to restock their shelves. While Mustafa expressed a bit of skepticism about FailChips at first, Mo observes, “…people have been coming in to get the FailChips…they’ve been moving I guess.” Downing a bag, Mo ventures his own verdict? “Wow…it’s pretty good.”
For those in perpetual motion, there’s a lot to be said for chips that are basically hands-free (and require no napkin or hand-washing). Will FailChips emerge as the next big snacking phenomenon? Ultimately only tastes will tell. Whatever the outcome, they’re ready for the competition with their fighting motto: “Let the chips fall where they may.”