I COULDN’T BELIEVE IT WAS ACTUALLY HAPPENING…
After spending months dreaming of taking it to the next level I was actually going to see her outside of work and school. We had met months earlier on the first day of the spring semester at The College of New Jersey and, perhaps serendipitously, it also happened to be my birthday! I arrived at my World History class early to make sure I secured a seat in the first row directly in front of the professor’s podium. I was not going to let this, my third chance at actually successfully making it through college, pass me by. Then she walked in. I can remember seeing her eyes first. They were blue and big, and, well, simply gorgeous. I watched her every move as she walked directly to the back of the class to take one of the last seats. I don’t think she saw me, but I certainly saw her.
I spent the entire class distracted but was able to steal a few glances at her each time the professor turned his back on the class to write something important on the board. When class was almost over I committed the ultimate sin and dishonored the sanctity of the prized seat closest to the podium – I packed up before the professor had finished the lesson! This was the spark that the rest of the class needed – everyone followed suit and prematurely began to pack their bags. I could sense the dissatisfaction on the professor’s face for what I had done, but it didn’t matter. I simply had to be the first one out of the class to position myself in the best location possible to catch her eye and hopefully strike up a conversation when she left the room.
And, my plan had worked perfectly, or so I thought. I was leaning up against the hallway wall immediately adjacent to the classroom door as she walked out. I looked her straight in the eye and mustered up enough courage to say, “hello.” Well, if you are wondering what happened next you are going to be as disappointed as I was. She continued to walk right past me without saying a word! Devastated, I drove myself back to my apartment, showered, and put on my khaki’s and hunter green polo shirt adorned with the embroidered Alchemist and Barrister Restaurant seal. This was the first time I ever wore the uniform and I was about to start my inaugural shift as the new bartender.
A TWIST OF FATE
An hour later I found myself seated at a large dining table as the rest of the front of house staff assembled for the pre-shift meeting at the Alchemist and Barrister Restaurant in Princeton, New Jersey (aka the A&B). And, that’s when she walked in. That same girl I had pined over in my class hours earlier actually walked in! I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea what she was doing there. As she took her seat across from me I noticed she was wearing the same uniform, but with an aqua blue shirt instead of my hunter green. Nevertheless, her shirt was adorned with the same embroidered Alchemist and Barrister seal as mine. When the meeting started we were both introduced to the other waiters, bartenders, and hosts and I learned Christina was the new waitress and I was the new bartender. Even though I failed to catch her eye across the table I somehow knew that this, the first night for both of us at the restaurant, was just the beginning of something more.
What started as a proper introduction that night quickly blossomed into an incredible friendship. And, as the weeks passed I learned her beauty was much more than skin deep. I desperately wanted more, but was scared about the possibility of screwing everything up if I tried to take it to the next level only to ultimately wind up losing her as a friend. But one day she took the initiative and asked me if I wanted to study for an upcoming history exam at her college suite.
Looking back this moment was really months in the making. What started as her ignoring me outside of a classroom and later our first staff meeting quickly turned into glances across the service station at the end of the bar as Christina would pick up the drinks I made for her tables. Our conversations grew longer and eventually we were taking advantage of every opportunity to spend as much time together at work as possible. Christina worked the fine dining portion of the restaurant and, as a result, she finished work hours before I closed the bar. She began to bring her homework with her and would sit at the end of the bar and pretend to study as I fed her drinks – her favorite, the Bahama Mama. And, this became our “thing” until she broke the routine one night by asking me if I wanted to come over to her dorm suite to study. I immediately said yes and, what’s more, I offered to bring the fixings for Bahama Mama’s for her and her suitemates.
As I combed the liquor store for the various ingredients I needed I realized this offer seemed more difficult to pull off than I imagined. The Bahama Mama recipe we used at the Alchemist and Barrister, and the one Christina had fallen in love with, contained no less than four different bottles of alcohol in addition to orange juice, pineapple juice, grenadine, maraschino cherries, and, of course, fresh fruit for a garnish! I also needed a bag of ice and, of course, proper glasses, straws, and little umbrellas. For a starving college student who was trying to make a good impression doing this right required spending way too much money. I figured it was worth every penny and, as I was unloading the cart onto the counter near the register I noticed a rack full of potato chips. At the top was a ginormous bag of the newest health food craze of the late-90’s. These chips were advertised to possess the power of delivering all of the pleasure of eating a regular potato chip but none of the fat! I grabbed a party-sized bag of the WOW chips and added it to my already way-too-expensive purchase figuring that bringing this healthy alternative to party food to a group of college-aged girls would be the coup de grace and I would not only win over Christina but all of her suite mates as well!
I arrived at Christina’s door laden with bags filled with alcohol, ice, fruit, glasses, garnishes and, last but not least, a few history books that rounded out the façade of “studying” that was about the transpire and, used my cowboy boot to knock on the door since I had no free hands. Christina opened the door and I was immediately introduced to all of her suitemates. As I unloaded my bags and produced the bottles of alcohol the sense of “thirst” on their face matched my need to keep busy so I immediately began to mix up and distribute the Bahama Mama’s to Christina and all of her friends. Everything was going well at first – mixing the drinks kept my nervous hands busy and the introductions kept the conversation flowing. But, as soon as the drinks were distributed and we were supposed to begin studying (which neither of us had any real intention of doing) as her suitemates watched, the awkwardness began.
UNFORTUNATELY, I AM A STRESS EATER.
I opened the bag of WOW chips and immediately began to chow down! I don’t remember if none of the girls actually wanted any or if I just didn’t give them the opportunity but I remember the surprise when I ultimately reached into the bag and my fingertips only found a few crumbs.
That is when I realized that I had
EATEN THE ENTIRE PARTY BAGS OF WOW CHIPS BY MYSELF!
Whatever embarrassment I felt from the gluttony was quickly replaced by an uncomfortable feeling welling up from the depths of my belly. I felt crampy and bloated and, like a switch something deep inside of me was screaming the need to get to a bathroom as quickly as possible! As I leaped to my feet and sprinted to the bathroom I remember dreading the unknown of what was about to take place. Immediately, upon entering the bathroom I barely had enough time to lock the door and drop my pants before one of the most memorable events of my life ensued.
Okay, I need to pause the story here before I go any further to set the scene properly. The suite in which Christina lived was arranged like a donut with a bathroom in the center. All of the living and sleeping spaces were located around the bathroom and separated by a thin, uninsulated drywall wall. No matter where you were located in the suite you were only a few feet away from the bathroom. Christina and all of her suitemates had all seen me jump up, break several land-speed records sprinting to the bathroom, and heard me slam the bathroom door. I am convinced that all eyes and ears were finely tuned towards the bathroom. And, to make it all worse, this was Christina’s and my first “date” and the first time I met her suitemates. You never get a second chance to make a first impression!
I have no words to accurately convey to you what happened in that bathroom. The best I can do is come up with the phrase: immediate and full evacuation. It felt like everything I had consumed since arriving at Christina’s suite, which included an entire party size bag of WOW chips, wanted to instantaneously leave my body. And, it all did. It was over as soon as it began and then the real work started…the clean-up. After cleaning the toilet and walls and wishing to god I had something to light to do something about the smell I looked at the door and realized that soon I would need to turn that handle, open the door and face Christina and her friends. My heart was literally racing and it was hands-down the most embarrassing moment of my life.
No one made eye contact and everyone pretended like nothing had happened and we continued the studying sham for another half hour when I decided that I and everyone around me had suffered long enough and it was time to go. As I was packing up I picked up the empty bag of WOW chips and my eyes paused on the warning label which read:
This Product Contains Olestra. Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools. Olestra inhibits the absorption of some vitamins and other nutrients. Vitamins A, D, E and K have been added.
Wait. What? I certainly didn’t know as much about nutrition then as I know now, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize anything with a warning label like that is the furthest thing from health food and definitely something that doesn’t belong in anyone’s body, ever!
A HEALTHY POTATO CHIP?
A lot has happened since then but I have never forgotten the lessons I learned that day. And, although it took me more than 20 years, I have finally developed a potato chip that I feel confident calling a genuine health food – the lacto-crisp! I am so excited to share the recipe with you here. To see how amazing these chips are let’s first take a look at what is wrong with a traditional, run of the mill potato chips.
Problems with a normal potato chip:
– All potatoes contain toxins such as glycoalkaloids and oxalates
– Frying potatoes at high temperatures produce the carcinogen acrylamide
– The nut and seed oils in which potatoes are cooked are incredibly unhealthy fats – especially when they are heated
Certainly, we can all agree that there is nothing healthy about any of that! But, I am here to tell you that is not the end of the story. My work is focused on using the archaeological and anthropological records to identify strategies and technologies used by our ancestors as well as traditional communities around the world to make food:
2. Nutrient Dense
And, most importantly, I take these lessons I learn and apply them to our modern kitchens.
HEADING TO SOUTH AMERICAN FOR ANSWERS
To figure out how to transform an unhealthy potato chip into something with which I can nourish my family I traveled to South American to live with and learn from two traditional families, an Aymara family in the Altiplano region of Bolivia and a Quechua family in the Andes Mountains of Peru who both practice different ways of detoxifying potatoes as a regular part of their diets.
I was able to develop this recipe by adapting the ancient technology of making tocosh, a fermented potato which forms the staple of many traditional dishes, to our modern kitchens. Although tocosh ferments in the ground for at least 6 months we can reap very similar benefits in a much shorter time by first peeling and then thinly slicing the potatoes before fermenting them in a glass jar on our countertops in only a few days. Then the fermented potato slices are deep-fried in lard or tallow to produce the healthiest and tastiest version of a potato chip you have ever tried!
THIS IS WHAT MAKES THESE CHIPS DIFFERENT:
1. Since many of the toxins reside in the peel simply peeling the potatoes gets rid of a large amount of the toxins
2. The fermentation greatly reduces the toxins in the interior of the potatoes
3. Since the bacteria feed on the starches, there is much less starch present when the potatoes are cooked at high temperatures significantly reducing the acrylamide production
4. The potatoes are cooked in high-quality animal fat which do not break down at high temperatures in the same way as nut and seed oils
The result, something I consider a health food and love to feed my family.
THINK ABOUT IT… A LACTO-CRISP IS SIMPLY A DETOXIFIED ROOT VEGETABLE COOKED IN HIGH-QUALITY ANIMAL FAT. AND, YOU KNOW WHAT, THE KIDS AND THEIR FRIENDS ABSOLUTELY LOVE THEM!
Potatoes (such as Russets) and/or Sweet Potatoes
High-Quality Animal Fat such as lard or tallow
That’s it > 4 ingredients!
Fill a large bowl full of water. Peel the potatoes. Once each potato is peeled place it in a bowl of water so that the peeled potatoes do not oxidize while you peel the rest. Once all of the potatoes are peeled use a food processor, mandolin or knife to thinly slice. Place a large glass jar on a scale, make sure it is set to grams and tare to zero. Place the sliced potatoes in the jar and fill with room temperature water to cover potato slices. The number on the scale should represent the combined weight of the potatoes and water (NOT including the jar). Multiply the combined weight of the potatoes and water by 0.02 (2%) and weigh that amount out in salt. Add the salt to the container and stir gently to combine. Cover container with a cloth or lid that is not screwed on too tightly and set aside at room temperature to ferment for a few days. Make sure that the level of the water is no less than an inch from the top of the vessel or else it will overflow during fermentation.
Fermentation should begin in a day or two. I usually let the fermentation1 continue for a total of 3-5 days depending on temperature (less time if warmer, more time if cooler) and on the desired flavor.
Heat high-quality animal fat to 300 degrees F/150 C2 for 5-7 minutes or until the desired crispiness is achieved 3. Transfer to a drain rack, crumbled up brown paper, or paper towels and immediately sprinkle with salt. Cool and enjoy immediately or store in a sealed container. These are an excellent addition to my kids’ lunch boxes.
- The longer it ferments the more acidic it becomes as a result of the build-up of lactic acid. A 5+ day ferment will result in a “salt and vinegar” flavor that my kids love!
- 300 F/ 150 C is the ideal temperature for potato chips because the lower temperature works to drive off the remaining moisture in the chip before it finishes cooking resulting in a crispier, well, crisp!
- Note that these chips will not brown as much as a “normal” chip! This is because much of the starch that would turn brown during the Maillard Reaction (which is what produces the acrylamides) are gone because of the fermentation. Don’t worry – they will still crisp up the same way despite the lack of color!
I bet Christina is glad she didn’t give up on me 20 years ago when I literally destroyed her bathrooms– if she had, she wouldn’t be enjoying these now!