Up Front: Chips and culture at World Chip Championship
We're used to our chips with a side of curry sauce, not culture, but as the first ever World Chip Championship kicks off in Limerick this weekend however, it seems the humble chip has had something of an image reboot.
"Chips are loved all around the world," says Nigel Dugdale, spokesperson for the Culture and Chips festival taking place in the city over the bank holiday weekend, "so we thought why not do something different to celebrate the humble chip... Growing up in Limerick, I remember garlic and cheese chips being the big thing after a night out," he adds.
"Really what our judges are looking for is a different take on the chip, whether it's a sweet potato chip, apple chip or beetroot chip, and of course, a sensational dip."
'French Fried Potatoes' first popped up in British cookbook Cookery for Maids of All Work by Eliza Warren back in 1856.
The French and Belgians are still bickering over who came up with the idea first.
From the chip butty to curry chips however, Ireland has put its own stamp on the traditional dish, says blogger Aoife Cox of The Daily Spud: "I wrote a post on the chip butty once, and my readers in the States were like, 'What are you talking about?'
"They were horrified by the idea of putting chips in a sandwich – but the proof is in the eating!
"For me, the perfect chip is crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside with just a sprinkle of salt and vinegar," she adds.
"Getting it right can be a bit of an art form, and depends on factors such as the type of potato you use and the temperature of the oil.
"We've all had horrible soggy chips. But it's hard to beat a well-cooked chip."
As the boss of Jo'Burger, CrackBird and BEAR, to name a few, Joe Macken knows all about the search for the perfect chip.
At BEAR, for instance, the Dublin eaterie he co-owns with rugby player Jamie Heaslip, customers chow their way through thousands of portions of chips every week. Joe says: "We buy potatoes by the pallet and have one employee whose sole job is to make chips.
"All the skinnies come in and say 'I won't have this or I won't have that', but still order a portion of chips."
Million dollar fries (€6.50), made from slivers of chilled Dauphinoise Potato, and twice-cooked salt and vinegar fries (€3.95), are among the more carb-tastic sides on the menu.
Just don't call them chips, jokes Joe: "It sounds snobby, but we call them fries. Chips are soggy things you find in a chipper; 'Chips' sounds cheap."
For those vying to become the King or Queen of the lowly chip in the City of Culture this Saturday however, he divulges: "All our chips are dropped into tepid [vegetable] oil for a few minutes before being taken out and left to sweat naturally.
"Then they're chilled in the fridge, and deep-fried again at 190°C before being served.
"There should be an audible crunch."
Of course, you don't have to go to the bother of making your own.
Ever since the aforementioned McCain's TV ad, frozen chips have become a staple in the bottom drawer of freezers throughout the land.
"Back in the Eighties, practically every house in Ireland had a deep fat fryer," says Eleanor Meade of Meade Potato Company, which has just launched Ireland's first homegrown frozen chip.
"Now people are more health-conscious so our chips, which are made from Rooster potatoes, can be fried, baked or grilled.
"In Ireland, we import over 120,000 tonnes of foreign frozen potato products every year," she adds, "so creating an Irish chip seemed like a no-brainer."
The inaugural World Chip Championship takes places this Saturday 31 May as part of Limerick's Culture and Chips Food Carnival. See www.cultureandchips.com
Crazy chip combos
Bicky dressing: Mayo, cabbage, onion, tarragon and mustard
A la zingara: A garnish of ham, tongue, truffles, tomato sauce, madeira and tarragon
War fries: Mayo, peanuts and raw onion
Chips on the big screen
A FISH CALLED WANDA
Giving new meaning to fish'n'chips, Oscar winner Kevin Kline memorably stuffs "the English contribution to world cuisine" up Michael Palin's nose before scoffing one of his pet fish in the classic 1988 comedy.
It's 20 years since Quentin Tarantino's pop culture masterpiece first hit the big screen, but the scene in which John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson discuss the Dutch's penchant for putting mayonnaise on their chips never gets old.
In this 2004 documentary film, Morgan Spurlock famously ate nothing but McDonald's for a month, counting french fries among his three main food groups, and unsurprisingly packing on 24.5lbs as a result.
First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent