More than a Side

Published in FSD Update

Housemade french fries and potato chips are making a statement on menus.

Bon Appétit’s housemade fries.

Fries and chips aren’t just filler for combo meals. These salty sides are no longer taking a back seat to their entrée companions, as many operations are making these items in house. “Our program was developed from trend reports based on the increased presence of fresh burger chains offering fresh-cut fries,” says Chuck Hatfield, development chef at Sodexo Business and Industry Solutions. “Any time you make food from scratch it tastes better, looks better and can command higher check averages,” Hatfield adds.

Loading up fresh fries

Chefs creating old-fashioned french fries and potato chips insist they’re an easy, appealing alternative to chemical-laden, processed potatoes.

Hatfield uses precut, 90-count Idaho russet potatoes. He advertises “fresh-cut fries” on his menus and features french fries loaded with toppings, including the Loaded Baked Potato (fries topped with bacon, sour cream, scallion, cheddar cheese and crispy onions); Maryland Crab Fries, (lump crab meat, fresh tomato, Old Bay seasoning and lemon-garlic aïoli); and Buffalo Fries, topped with crumbled blue cheese, fresh tomato, scallion and Buffalo hot sauce.

Cashing in on chips

Tracey MacRae, assistant executive chef at the University of Washington, in Seattle, describes the department’s french fries as a traditional, long and thin 5⁄16 fast food cut, prepared in trans fat-free oil. UW’s french fries are most often served plain, although MacRae says the university’s garlic rosemary flavor—applied as a wet slurry mixture of olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and fresh rosemary, tossed gently with the fries when they come out of the fat—is very popular and is priced at only 25 cents more. Dry-seasoned fries and chips are the same price as plain.

“I find potato chips so much more interesting than fries,” MacRae says. “Our chips are starchy Idaho russets. They have a crunchy texture like a kettle chip, with a surface that allows seasonings to adhere. Commercial chips are very blond and they’re bleached, but handmade chips are brown because the sugar and starch are coming out of the potato during preparation.”

The convenient, thin-sliced, skin-on, locally sourced chips go from frozen to fried in five minutes. They’re prepared in small batches, dumped into a paper-lined tub, seasoned and then served. “Chips don’t have to be warm to be delicious, although a paper bag brimming with hot chips is an amazing comfort food,” MacRae says. A single-serve bag is about 3 ounces; about 2 ounces of chips are served alongside meals.

MacRae’s well-received dry seasonings include wasabi, jerk, curry, lemon pepper, smoked paprika and garlic, and Middle Eastern spices, including za’atar and ras el hanout. “Black pepper Parmesan is very popular, too,” MacRae adds. “The Parmesan is very dusty. The seasoning needs to really flavor the chip, not just hang on there like a weird glob.” MacRae is also experimenting with powders. “We’ve recently sourced vinegar powder, tomato powder and buttermilk powder,” she says. “The flavors are interesting and intense.”

MacRae also treats chips as an upscale cracker. “I did a Southern-style catering gig and piped some housemade deviled ham onto the potato chips.” Her innovative dips include black-eyed pea hummus, caramelized onion and smoky blue cheese.”

Field fresh is possible

The foodservice department at Fauquier Hospital, in Warrenton, Va., is contracted with Unidine, which requires its employees to take a fresh food pledge. “Everything we serve is made from scratch,” says Natalie Ramos, director of dining services with Unidine. “That’s why we cut our fries and chips from locally sourced potatoes. I’ve found that people really want healthy, quality food now, not just quantity.”

Ramos serves ¾-inch cut baked fries for Wellness Wednesdays. On Fridays, creatively seasoned fries, which are fried in vegetable oil, are featured with dips like banana ketchup to go alongside Asian dishes. Fries are also smothered with Ramos’ housemade Southwest Chicken Chili.  

taking a dip

The constant hunt for fresh ideas has foodservice directors trying all sorts of new dippers and dunk-ables, but you can’t swing a dead cat in the non-commercial sector without hitting the old standbys of french fries and chips. If that sounds disgusting, consider the role Cat Vomit is playing in the quest for novelty.

Cat Vomit is a chip dip hailed on ManTestedRecipes.com as a tasty, easy-to-prepare alternative to old reliables like guacamole, bean dip or chili-cheese combos. The contents are hardly nauseating: cream cheese, baked beans and the preparer’s choice of cheese, microwaved into a molten goo that looks like mushroom soup. Or something any pet owner would recognize.

The name might be extreme, but a stab at differentiation is hardly knuckleheaded, particularly when it comes to fries, says chef Andrew Hunter, the Wolfgang Puck protégé who now heads his own culinary consulting and menu development agency.

“Everyone’s fries are essentially the same,” he says. “Sauces are a way of differentiating my fry offering from your fry offering.”

Hunter encourages alternate sauces made with aïolis, ketchups and vinaigrettes. One of his favorites is a wasabi cream sauce.

A condiment of white truffle oil with garlic and parsley is on the extensive list of dips, sauces and flavorings that Bon Appétit Management Co. uses in its accounts. The roster also includes a number of ketchups, from Roasted Habanero Orange to Caramelized Onion and Kale, as well as some fruit-based choices, like Strawberry Rhubarb Chutney and a Watermelon BBQ sauce.

Bon Appétit’s catering operation at Lewis and Clark College, in Portland, Ore., features a dip of Caramelized Pear and Sage with Goat Cheese, priced at $30 for a 10-serving bowl.  

-By Peter Romeo