Accomplishments and Records

How a Popular Snack Was Born Out of a Fit of Frustration

George Crum had run out of patience. He certainly subscribed to the adage that the customer is always right, and he tried his best to be accommodating, but enough was enough!

inventor of the potato chip
George Crum

It was 1853, and George was the chef at the Moon Lake Lodge resort in Saratoga Springs, New York. Even the best of chefs know they will occasionally encounter a diner who is fussy and insists on sending food back to the kitchen. It’s all part of the job, and he had learned to expect it.

Nothing, however, prepared him for this customer. He ordered his meal with a side of french fries. When he sent them back, George was mildly surprised. There isn’t anything particularly special about french fries. They are, quite simply, long slices of potato, fried in oil, and salted. George tasted one of the rejected fries. It was properly cooked and tasted fine. What was wrong with it?

The waiter replied that the diner found the fries too thick for his liking. And they didn’t have enough salt, either. George rolled his eyes but held his tongue. He whipped up another batch of fries, taking care not to slice them too thick this time.

He turned his attention back to the other meals he had to prepare. Within minutes, the waiter was back, carrying the replacement fries. “They’re still too thick,” the waiter explained, apologetically.

George pursed his lips and took a calming breath. “It’s not a big deal,” he told himself as he prepared another batch of french fries. He cut these significantly thinner than normal. When they came out of the fryer, he gave them a generous dash of salt. As he handed the plate to the waiter, he forced himself not to glare into the restaurant, out of fear that his expression would betray his irritation.

No sooner did he return his attention to the next meal when he heard a nervous cough at his side. It couldn’t be! He looked and saw the waiter, looking fearful and frustrated, and holding the plate of fries.

“Don’t tell me!” exclaimed George. The waiter’s nod confirmed his fears. “They’re still too thick,” he said. “The man wants thinner — and saltier — fries.” He gave the chef a shrug that said, “Don’t blame me; I’m just the messenger” and quickly fled from the exasperated chef.

Three plates of french fries had just been returned by the same person! George had never been so offended. The restaurant was filled with customers who were perfectly happy about their meals, yet there was one impossible-to-please diner who was throwing the entire kitchen into disarray because of a stupid order of french fries!

That was it. George had enough. He knew it wasn’t a good idea to take out his anger on a customer, but this guy certainly had it coming. George grabbed a potato, snatched up his sharpest knife, and set to work. With the precision of a surgeon, he cut paper-thin slices of potato. They were so thin that you could see the light through them. He threw the slices into the hot oil and watched them cook — and cook — and cook. When they were brown — almost burned — he removed them from the oil. Grabbing up the salt shaker, he unloaded his pent-up frustration, sending a blizzard of salt onto the horrid-looking concoction.

Satisfied that he had prepared the most ghastly dish that ever came out of the kitchen of the Moon Lake Lodge, George didn’t even bother ringing for the waiter. He picked up the plate and marched out of the kitchen and threw the plate down in front of the impossible customer.

He knew he could get fired for such an act of insolence, but he was beyond caring. His competence as a chef had been challenged. It was an insult that could not be overlooked.

George prepared himself for what he would say. Any diner who was fussy enough to send three plates of french fries back to the kitchen would likely find this burnt and salty abomination something akin to fighting words. Sure enough, the diner cried out with an exclamation.

To George’s astonishment, it was an exclamation of delight.

The customer loved it! This was even more than what he had hoped for! The fries were light, crispy, and absolutely delicious. Could he have more, please?

George returned to the kitchen, scratching his head, amazed at what had just taken place. His amazement only grew as the delighted diner shared his crispy potato slices with other diners. They, too, wanted french fries cooked exactly the same way.

The diners left the restaurant and spread the word. Soon people came from all over to sample the amazing french fries of the Moon Lake Lodge. Forget about the main courses — they were primarily interested in the french fries.

George’s innovative french fries were so popular that he was able to quit the Moon Lake Lodge and open his own restaurant. The most popular item on the menu was, of course, his special french fries.

George never could get over his surprise at the success of his french fries. No one had ever requested french fries cooked that way. In fact, he couldn’t, in good conscience, call his dish by that name. It was so distinct that it needed to be called something else. We know his creation today as potato chips.

The next time you enjoy the tasty snack, think of George Crum, the man responsible for the crumbs you will have to brush away. Be thankful for that moment of utter frustration that gave birth to a world-changing flash of inspiration.

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