The history of the delightful and greasy snack nearly universally called “French fries” (in this country, at least) is as contentious as it is tasty. Fried potato enthusiast Paul Ilegems, a retired art history professor profiled by Reuters in 2010 for his fry-love, called the adjective “French” a misnomer and even an insult to Belgians, the true progenitors of frites.
According to Ilegems, the first frites stand originated in Leige, Belgium, in 1838. According to everyone’s smartest friend, Wikipedia, Belgian journalist Jo Gérard traced the origin back even further, citing a family manuscript from 1781 that describes how inhabitants of the Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium) fried up sliced tubers during the winter in lieu of fish, inaccessible from the frozen rivers.
Bonappetit.com reported that Belgians consume 33 percent more fries per year than Americans—roughly 165 pounds per person—and that a 12-month-long training program in that country prepares future fry stand operators for their hallowed vocation. Served in a paper cone with aioli and salt, Belgian frites are twice-fried in oil and, in a perfect world, made from Bintje potatoes.
In San Antonio, Chris Thompson has the Belgian fries market cornered with Olive Frites, his booth at the Quarry Farmers & Ranchers Market. Growing up, the 24-year-old Alamo City native with a lifelong affinity for fries ran into the same problem over and over again: “I don’t like ketchup at all,” he confessed to the Current. “I did my research,” he said, “and thought there’s got to be a better dipping sauce.” He emerged victorious from his research rabbit hole after discovering the Belgian tradition of frites with aioli.
Armed with a bit of culinary knowledge from high school classes, Thompson started experimenting in the kitchen, infusing his handcrafted mayo with savory additions and testing out frying methods. Last July he took his hobby to farmers markets, and in October 2013, Olive Frites became his full-time gig.
He’s recently branched out into catering—weddings, parties and the like—and hopes to land a Saturday market gig, as well.
Each Sunday at the Quarry, Thompson sells cones of hand-cut, double-fried sweet potato and Russet frites, with three or four choices of fresh aioli. While he has over 30 varieties available for catering clients, including sun-dried tomato, mango chutney, Japanese horseradish, mushroom and blue cheese, his jalapeño and roasted garlic sauces are the most popular market staples.
Every weekend, Thompson cuts up some 25 to 30 pounds of potatoes by hand, pre-frying them at a low temperature early on Sunday mornings and then dropping them into the oil again when a shopper places an order available in small ($5) and large ($7) cones, $6 to $8 for the sweet potato variety. His mayo is comfortingly (and deliciously) simple: egg yolk, lemon juice, kosher salt, white wine vinegar and vegetable oil, plus blended additions like fresh jalapeño or Kalamata olive (available in 8-ounce jars for $5 a pop). It’s time to ditch the Heinz.
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