Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Regional Faves Are All That and a Bag of Chips

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Regional Faves Are All That and a Bag of Chips

Article excerpt

Andrew Knowlton, an editor at Bon Appetit magazine, recently called himself a "chip swinger." As in potato chips, which he's sampled from Seattle to New Orleans, abandoning one regional brand for the next like a sailor with a girl in every port - until his "latest crush," Fox Farms chips from Maine.

Fox Farms chips are hand-sliced and hearty, cooked to a deep brown, a favorite style in the Northeast. Though thin and flat may be the national standard -- and bestselling variety -- of this ubiquitous snack, regional and sometimes hyper-local preferences for different calibers of crunch, thickness, seasonings and endless other elements have created a surprisingly diverse culinary patchwork of chip styles around the country.

Midwesterners, for example, prefer a thicker, more substantial chip. Big, hearty chips also sell well in New England and the Rockies, though in the latter area, those progressive mountain folk want theirs with artisanal seasonings. Southerners love barbecue flavor, chip industry executives say, but it needs to be sprinkled on thin, melt-in-your-mouth chips.

"Consumers have a preference for foods and flavors that reflect their own unique background," says Jennifer Saenz, senior director of marketing for Lay's, "whether it's family traditions, cultural experiences or the places they have lived." The company began experimenting a decade ago with flavors like Chicago Steakhouse Loaded Baked Potato, as well as San Antonio Salsa. Today, it offers roughly a dozen specialty flavors, such as Wavy Au Gratin in the Midwest and Garden Tomato & Basil in the East.

Lay's also employs social media to crowd-source preferences. For the "Do Us A Flavor" contest, the first in the United States (others have been held around the world), potential winners have until Oct. 6 to submit ideas for future chips on Facebook. Flavors like sauteed onion and ketchup, smoked salmon, and bacon -- with anything from cheese to chocolate -- have been suggested.

Is there a New Jersey potato chip?

Blair Lazar of Highlands is the founder of the extremely spicy Blair's Death Sauce and Blair's Death Rain Chips. Though he's been selling his own hot brand since 1997, he still remembers the classic chips he enjoyed as a kid.

"I used to always eat Charles Chips," says Lazar, referring to the snack made by the Pennsylvania-based potato chip company, which has been around since 1942 and had a re-launch last December after years of failed ownerships. "It would come in this tin, and you could go and have it refilled. It was just a thin-cut chip, and it wasn't seasoned or anything. It was just Charles Chips."

The origin of Blair's products is as Jersey as it gets : Lazar was bartending at the Shore when he first began to serve his Wings of Death to drunken patrons avoiding last call. …

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