It’s the entire spectrum of cooking, of eating, of life itself can be represented by the potato.
The last time our good friend Jim Leff, the chowhound, was on Open Source you had only the first course. Leff served up the second course, when we were off the air, and he started talking potatoes. We are bringing him back so you can be in on this great conversation.
Leff is a guy who was cooking potato chips at the age of ten. With a couple of decades and over 200 varieties of potato chips under his belt he now gets his fix Fed-Exed from Maui. In an email to Open Source Leff elaborated on these tropical wonders
Snack food, phooey…these things are STEAKS! So huge and thickly cut, you’d think them comical if you weren’t moaning in ecstasy. Massive roasty potato flavor, deep dark brown, snatched from the oil just in time by an omniscient hand. Paul Bunyon eats ‘em. Greasy as all get-out. Every other chip seems anemic.
But potato chips are just the beginning. As the nation’s preeminent spud stud, Leff loves the potato in any form. From the humble boiled Irish potato, to golden loaves of potato nik, somoas stuffed with ginger spiced spuds, to the sturdy pudding kugel
Like all soul foods, this is a dish born of poverty. But creativity flourishes under impediment, so destitution frequently leads to deliciousness — and there are few things in this world as delicious as a well-baked kugel. It’s a delicacy anyone even remotely fond of potatoes must adore.
I’m nuts about it. Though starchy, inelegant kugel is the trashy underside of Jewish cooking, it’s long been one of the things I most crave. Of course, this might not have been the case had I been born a century ago over there, where potato-centricism stemmed from necessity rather than choice. There’s an old song that goes “Monday, potatoes; Tuesday, potatoes. Wednesday and Thursday, potatoes. Saturday… maybe a potato kugel, then Sunday potatoes again.” It’s only recently that I’ve come to understand that this was a blues sung from poverty, not a hopeful song for a future utopia.
Jim Leff, Cuckoo for Kugel
It is the apple of the earth and the apple of Leff’s eye. Skins or nude, mashed or fried, Leff has rarely seen a potato he doesn’t like. If you too have Leff’s lifelong love of the potato we want to know about it. What variety do you like? How do you like them done? What is your potato passion–your french fry wishes and tater-tot dreams?
Jim Leff didn’t know it at the time but he actually wrote one of the first food blogs What Jim Had for Dinner. This is now part of his popular website, known as the annti-Zagat, www.Chowhound.com. Leff is a food critic who has eaten everything from every corner of the world.
Professor, UC Berkeley School of Journalism
Public Relations Executive for The British Potato Council
- Extra Credit Reading
Roy Finamore One Potato, Two Potato: 300 Recipes from Simple to Elegant, Houghton Mifflin, 2001.
Redcliffe Salaman, The History and Social Influence of the Potato, Cambridge University Press, 1949.
Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire, Random House, 2002.
Lisa Tanner, The Potato Experience: Wonderful Ways With Potato Outers and Innards, Ten Speed Press, 1986.
Larry Zuckerman, The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World, North Point Press, October 1999.
Dymphna, Father’s Day 2006, The Neighborhood of God, June 19, 2006.