Friday, May 13, 2011


Regular readers of Psycho-Gourmet will know that I have a great affection both for art and for interestingly shaped potatoes.  But given how many potatoes there are in the world, and given how many I personally eat, it surprises me just how few quirky or interestingly shaped potatoes I ever find.  However, last week, in my bag of Yukon Golds I discovered this wonderful heart-shaped potato.

It was actually even more heart shaped than it looks in the picture – oh for a bit of 3D.  I kept it for a while but, you know, a potato only has a certain amount of life in it, so I decided I should eat it, and with some judicious cutting and frying I did manage to come up with a couple of vaguely heart-shaped potato slices.

I’m not claiming that this is great food art, or even potato art.  For that may I direct you to a Beirut-based artist named Ginou Choueiri, who makes potato-based artifacts that look like this.

The information I have says that he draws the faces on the potatoes, though I must say, looking at them I wonder whether it isn’t some kind of photographic process that puts them there.  Anyway, the coming together of the flaws in the skin of the potato and the features of the human face is somehow very alarming yet very compelling.

Which reminds me of an idea I had when I lived in New York.  As I walked down Lower Broadway I used to see these guys with little street stalls offering to write your name on a grain of rice.  I’m sure they don’t only exist in New York. There was no trick to it, the guys were just very careful and skillful, and they obviously had very steady hands.

But I thought it would be cool to set myself up in competition, and because I have an Irish heritage, I’d set up a stall that said, “Your name on a potato!”  And because the Irish are so well-loved in New York, how could it have failed?  It would have been best of all if your name was Spud.

There are a great many things I don’t understand about the restaurant business, but high on the list of mysteries is the success of the spud-u-like chain in Britain (OK I’m using the word restaurant pretty loosely here).

The business model is fairly amazing – you take a big cheap potato, fill it with something else almost as cheap – baked beans, coleslaw, egg mayonnaise - and then they can sell it at an incredible mark up, for 3 or 4 quid per spud.  Sounds like a recipe to print money, but how can customers not feel ripped off?

And I used to think that spud-u-like was the worst possible name for a restaurant but these days I think it’s kind of brilliant.  Even just typing it is a kind of silly pleasure.  It’s a bad name, a ridiculous name, a jokey name, but that’s OK because everybody’s in on the joke. 

I think a little humour with your food is no bad thing.  I love this very humble sandwich bar, near to Liverpool Street station:  

You just know that all the local office workers have conversations along these lines:  One  says, “Shall we have lunch at the Ritz today?”  And the other one says, “I don’t know, I’m bored with the Ritz, let’s try the Savoy.”  How we laughed.

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