Something Good #20: Catching Up With the Potato Chip Professor
At some point last week it suddenly became summer. I’m not interested exploring in the surely terrifying geo-climatic reasons why, but my biggest takeaway was that chip season was finally here. After multiple seasons of plague and cabin fever, it was time to hit the parks and backyards and open some loud crinkly bags.
I have spent a good deal of time over the last two months, since I interviewed the anonymous chip-ficionado behind the instagram account Professor Chip, exploring the seemingly limitless world of flavours offered by Bret’s, the soi-disant chipsier français brand that began in 1991 as a collective of Breton potato farmers. With the scent of Bret’s Gouda au Cumin still lingering like an early-summer perfume, I called the good Professor to catch up.
Mark: It seems like… I don’t know…. like the chips are blossoming. Like spring flowers everywhere. We’re up at a friend’s cottage now, and before we came I went by Milano’s and picked up six different bags of Bret’s. And we’ve destroyed them all in like, two days. I’m not sure if I’m just noticing Bret’s more since we last talked, but it seems like they’re everywhere now.
Professor Chip: They’re not so hard to find anymore, which is fantastic. Milano’s has a great selection. There seems to just be a ton of flavours. I’m trying to eat my way through all of them.
You go to the store and you’re like, what are you going to find now? I’ve been doing pretty good getting through them, but I still have a ways to go, which makes me very happy.
M: There are flavours I’d never expect to see, like Comté cheese, which is one of my favourite French cheeses—I have a lot of sentimental associations with it. I was delighted to see that on the shelf.
PC: It’s oddly specific, isn’t it? Because here, you have your cheddar or whatever, your generic orange cheese. But with Bret’s you have your camembert, your fromage du Jura, the fromage frais, the chèvre. There’s at least five or six different cheese flavours.
M: Oh, and the Gouda au Cumin. That one is just… luminescent. I don’t know how else to describe it, it’s so good.
PC: Yeah, that one is good. For me, cumin makes me think of ‘90s, early 2000s vegetarian cooking. Like, cumin would be in everything. I ate a lot of that. So cumin is something that I wouldn’t be super excited about, because I ate my lifetime’s share of it at that time. But that one is super good. I would have never thought of putting cheese and cumin together, but it’s great.
M: The Indian Curry one as well, I was surprised by, because I kind of expected it to have just a curry powder taste. But it had these really bold flavour notes. I imagine there’s probably a lot of curry potato chips in the U.K., but they’re probably more mundane than this one.
PC: That one surprised me too, because it was sort of a European kind of curry, a currywurst flavour, a little generic but it actually tasted like the different spices and not just a bland mix.
M: The only one that really disappointed me was the Fromage Frais et Fines Herbes, which was really dill-heavy. As someone who grew up on dill pickle chips, it just tasted like a really faint version of them.
PC: Wait until you try the pizza. Those ones are disappointing too.
M: I think you tried to warn me away from those already.
PC: Give them a try if you want, but they’re heavy on the oregano and don’t really taste much like pizza.
It makes me feel like I’m not deluded when I eat them. Like, Bret’s chips really are that good, and you can tell because sometimes I try ones that miss a little bit.
M: They’re the exceptions that prove the rule. Also, well, pizza in France in general is kind of questionable. It’ll often have, like a fried egg on top. They go a little wild with the pizza over there.
PC: So maybe they’re not starting from a great place.
M: Exactly. So I noticed you just reviewed the Sauce Andalouse flavour. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about that.
PC: So the sauce is Belgian in origin. It’s a sauce for fries, made of mayo, tomato paste and peppers and herbs, I think. And the chips were great. The pepper comes through pretty strongly, sort of a sweet earthiness. It’s got a little bit of tang, a little bit of herbs, like parsley and stuff like that. It was just great.
Between that and the Aioli chips, the fry sauce flavours are fantastic, which makes sense.
M: I was really surprised, because I assumed when I saw the name that it was an Andalusian flavour, that it was Spanish.
PC: Apparently not.
M: I’m looking it up now and Wikipedia tells me that it has no relation to the region of Andalusia, which is crazy. What I really thought was, well, have you ever been to Spain and had patatas bravas?
PC: Where you get that paprika sauce?
M: Yeah, like a spicy orange-ish sauce over your fried potatoes. That’s exactly what the bag made me think of. I guess the theory I’m working on now is that’s probably where the sauce came from originally, like, someone came back to Belgium from a trip having had patatas bravas and conjured a mayonnaise sauce up out of the association.
PC: That’s what I assume too. Colour-wise, that’s what it looks like. I imagine that what you think is probably right, that somebody tried it and they came back and tried to make it without really knowing what it was, but it tasted great.
M: So one thing I would really recommend is these Italian potato chips I’ve been trying, San Carlo.
PC: I’ve seen them at Milano’s but I haven’t gotten around to trying them yet. But once I’ve exhausted Bret’s that’s the next place to go.
M: I was very, very pleasantly surprised. We tried the pesto flavour—speaking of things I ate too much of when I myself was a vegetarian—which knocked my socks off. I expected it to be a sort of novelty flavour, heavy basil and not much else, but it was so cheese-forward. The parmesan flavour was so distinct, and I’m a huge parmesan fan so I really loved them. They really did taste like pesto. I just noticed that Bret’s has a pesto flavour as well, so I’m going to have to have a pesto-off with them.
Has there been anything you’ve discovered in the chip world recently you’d like to recommend? Maybe something a little bit closer to home or easier to acquire?
PC: Not a new discovery so much, but Miss Vickie’s has their spicy dill pickle chips, which are just great.
They were exclusive to Costco for a while, but they’re kind of everywhere now. They’re amazing for a chip that you can buy anywhere. You get the dill, the right amount of spice, and Miss Vickie’s are always a great kettle chip, great texture, consistent, and sort of a nice, bright-tasting chip.
M: Yeah, I’m calling those as the summer chip for 2021. At first I was like, well, they just do what it says on the tin: it’s spicy and it’s pickle. I wasn’t that impressed. But then I kept going back to them and I was like, oh, wait, these are actually really amazing.
PC: They’re not fancy. They’re just really good.
Apparently, it caught fire on Sunday.
This week’s #nojacketsrequired comes to us all the way from Minsk, Belarus—incidentally, my ancestral homeland, or at least one of them, via reader Aleh Suprunovich. This is a Russian-language version of Henri Perruchot’s La Vie de Van Gogh, and what a find it is. As always, if you have a dust jacket discovery to share, please send it directly to my email at email@example.com.
Extra special thanks to Aleh for also sending along this photo of “Slutsky”-brand sugar he took in the supermarket.
This just in: shortly before “press time,” Professor Chip got in touch to let me know that Bret’s Cèpes (porcini mushroom) may be the best yet. More news on this breaking story soon…
(Also, don’t forget to follow them @professorchip.)
I’ve really been enjoying Brian Feldman’s newsletter BNet lately: I have re-read the recent guest post about the deranged posting style of the Australian internet, “the Australian’s have lost their goddamn minds,” at least a dozen times. Yesterday’s post about drama in the online anti-multilevel-marketing community is also very good.
Also: did you know that there’s no potato chip emoji? This seems insane. We need to do something about that. Anybody want to take point?
Every Wednesday I’ll send you Something Good. If you can find it within you to tell a friend—please do!