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October 27, 2021
More Fun Than a Sack of Potatoes

There’s so much more to the tuber than mashing.

They’re cheap, they’re always available, and when they’re treated with just the right amount of salt, fat, (maybe some acid) and heat, they can taste a whole lot better than you might anticipate by their lumpy appearance. So it’s no wonder that potatoes have captured the imaginations of celebrity chefs, chain restaurants, TikTokers, aspiring entrepreneurs, sculptors, and New Wave filmmakers. Pull them out of the ground, brush the dirt off, and you’ve got a work of art in the making.

And perhaps because we’re so used to eating these tubers transformed into bland side dishes that are meant to soak up juices or create a bed for gravy, spotlighting the potato itself can seem like even more of a magic trick. But it was a cold potato soup that put the Ritz-Carlton in New York on the map in 1917. And it was a sea bass wrapped in thin slices of potatoes that became one of the most replicated dishes of its era after a young Daniel Boulud put it on the menu at Le Cirque in Manhattan in 1989. The potatoes incorporated in the dish became their own lightning rod for innovation, popping up as crunchy disks in one chef’s take and a crispy bed of shredded potatoes in another.

Even in the home kitchen, potatoes can be given a flurry of complex knife cuts to transform them into a physics-defying accordion, TikTok-style, or a Francis Mallmann–esque stack of crispy-edged dominos, or a skillet of cheesy ribbons. You can even leave them completely whole, the Syracuse way, and boil them in a saline solution until they become crackly and salt-encrusted. You don’t need a deep fryer, or pools of gravy, to make these spuds sparkle. —Anna Hezel