The most intriguing article in that first issue of Lucky Peach was about Kay and Ray’s Potato Chips, which the author Mark Ibold, says are the best in the world. That’s a mighty claim, and obviously a provocative one, and I’m always a bit dubious about any claims for the best of anything. So much depends on who you are and what you’re used to, what condition your taste buds are in and what mood you’re in at the time. Still, you’ve got to admire the guy’s enthusiasm.
Ibold describes those children on the pack as “Darger-esque” (as in the ludicrous old primitive artist and pervo, Henry Darger) though in fact the kids are Kay and Ray Heckendorm whose dad ran the company in the mid-fifties. Actually, there aren’t a whole lot of little boys to be found in the Darger oeuvre.
Kay and Ray’s Potato Chips are made in Pennsylvania, a state where the Loved One lived for a while, and she swears they have a special way with potato chips in those parts. But the real reason Kay and Ray’s Potato Chips absolutely needed to be sought out and eaten is quite simply because they’re cooked in lard. Lard! Oh joy.
Acquiring them was a little more tricky than anticipated. Online ordering didn’t seem to work, but a phone call to the factory got the job done. We went for the three pound box. In for a penny, in for three pounds. And the box duly arrived.
We imagined it would contain quite a few small packets of potato chips. But no. The box contained one gigantic plastic bag of potato chips. Thus:
I was sorry not to have the Darger-esque illustration but there’s always something appealing and formidable about having anything in bulk.
Are these the world’s best potato chips? Well, I wouldn’t get into a fist fight about it (for the reasons discussed above), but they’re definitely very damn good. And I have to say, the more I eat, the more I edge toward the Mark Ibold position.
Of course, in a photograph they look pretty much like any other potato chip, though in fact they’re smaller, thinner, crisper, more translucent that most. Can I taste the lard? Well not exactly. The flavor is much lighter and more delicate than you might expect, but it’s very good to know the lard’s there, and it leaves a satisfying oily sheen on the fingertips after you’ve touched them.
And I have, once again, been thinking about the connection between pigs and peasantry, and now potatoes. There is some crucial link between pork and potatoes, isn’t there? Vegetable oil was pretty much unknown in my family as I was growing up: we had a tiny bottle of olive oil in the house, that my mother swore was a cure for earache. The chip pan was filled with lard; and lard was used to roast potatoes. Using fancy oils for cooking would have seemed downright pretentious. And now lard itself has become a sort of delicacy, or at least a specialist item. Supermarket potato chips are now all sunflower and safflower oil. I wonder how long it will be before we need to order another three pounds of Kay and Ray’s Potato Chips.