French Fries: How to Make Them Perfect

French Fries: How to Make Them Perfect

© Wu Mingfeng | Unsplash

French_fries

French Fries: How to Make Them Perfect

© Wu Mingfeng | Unsplash

The Dutch chef Sergio Herman had achieved everything that could be achieved in his profession; top ratings in all restaurant guides, Michelin stars, awards, and fully booked tables. Nevertheless, he closed his restaurant Oud Sluis in 2013 to devote himself to new projects. One of them was a chip shop

Today, golden letters adorn the Frites Atelier in The Hague, which Herman opened in 2016 after a year and a half of experimentation – he is known for being extremely ambitious. White tiled walls, wood-look floors and even indoor plants define the interior design, spotlights set the stage for the main product.

It didn't take long for Sergio Herman's fries to be ranked among the best in the country; time and again, he ranks high in corresponding competitions in the Netherlands. Branches in Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels quickly followed. Whether or not this French fries paradise that Herman has created should still be referred to as a chip shop is debatable.

Sergio Herman, cooking legend from the Netherlands, runs the upmarket chip shop 'Frites Atelier'.

© Chantal Arnts

Fry your dream

Herman is not alone in his passion for cosmopolitan fast food; star-sponsored expansions into the popular food sector are more common than you might think. For example, Denmark's star chef René Redzepi recently opened a burger joint in Copenhagen, including fries, and Heston Blumenthal's triple cooked chips are legendary.

The most recent example is Swedish celebrity chef Björn Frantzén, who opened Brasserie Astoria in Stockholm a few months ago - after establishing a gastropub with locations in Stockholm and Hong Kong in 2013.

French fries are an integral part of the menu, whether as an accompaniment to mussels, lobster or Challans duck - Frantzén refines them with garlic and parmesan. Where does his penchant for the humble chip come from? The Swede has described his culinary awakening several times in interviews, it was not in a Michelin restaurant, but when he ate steak with béarnaise sauce...and chips.

It sounds familiar when Vladi Gachyn talks about his fascination for fries. He and his current business partner Kajo Hiesl worked under various top chefs during their training and got to know each other in the kitchen of three-star chef-supreme Sven Elverfeld in Wolfsburg.

What finally drew them out of haute cuisine? "I don't remember most of the courses in star cuisine," says Gachyn. "But where I ate the best schnitzel, the best burger and the best pizza I remember very clearly."

So they swapped highly demanding top cuisine for their own business cooking deep-fried potatoes: Goldies opened its doors in Berlin-Kreuzberg in 2018 and even though the repertoire has grown a bit since – in the beginning, only fries with homemade sauces were on the menu. True to the company's motto: "Don't fry your life, fry your dream".

Which leads to the question: What kind of fat do you need? Do you have to fry once, twice or thrice? And what tricks are there for the perfect fries? Falstaff asked Pascal Willaert, who, together with his brother Thierry, owns what is surely the best-known – and possibly also the best – chip shop in the world, namely Maison Antoine in Brussels. In other words, in the capital of the country where people eat fries with their families once a week and where the golden sticks are part of the national heritage.

Founded in 1948 by Pascal Willaert's grandfather Antoine, the chip shop is still there today, even if it has been torn down and rebuilt. Customers sometimes wait here for hours, Mick Jagger was here, and when Angela Merkel stood at the stall the photo of her in the queue went around the world. The stall is popular with politicians due to the fact that the EU Parliament building is but a few minutes' walk away.

Angela Merkel, Christine Lagarde and Mick Jagger have already queued up here at 'Maison Antoine' in Brussels.

© Jens Gyarmaty / Visum / picturedesk.com

So, Monsieur Willaert, what makes perfect fries? Willaert, or rather his wife, who interprets for him, answers kindly, but doesn't let too much slip. "You need a type of potato that has little sugar and starch, otherwise the fries will brown too quickly." They usually use Agria or Bintje potatoes, but it also depends on the season. "We never use frozen products," adds Mrs Willaert. They deep-fry about 250 kilos a day, twice, in beef fat, but the exact temperature and duration remain company secrets. 

In contrast to the current trend, however, Pascal Willaert advises frying without the skin. "It makes the fries crispier," he says. Potato flesh offers the sizzling fat more surface to attack, and while the inside cooks and becomes floury and creamy, the outer crust remains crispy. If you happen to own a vacuum chamber and an ultrasonic bath, you can take the preparation of the perfect fries to the extreme - chef Nathan Myhrvold proved that fries processed with ultrasonic waves have microscopic cracks and so become even crisper when fried. 

Ordinary mortals, on the other hand, are left with one question: mayo or ketchup? For purists, the answer is clear and the health-conscious also make do without sauces. However, according to Harvard nutritionist Eric Rimm, French fries are not that unhealthy - as long as you don't eat more than six. You can count generously ...

Ripe for Unesco?

Belgium's 5,000 French fry stands are to aiming to gain World Heritage status: the fritkot culture is already considered a national heritage in the regions of Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels. The Belgian Fritters Association is also campaigning for recognition from UNESCO World Heritage, so far unsuccessfully.

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