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The Tale of the Humble French Fry

Two summers ago, Handline participated for the first time as a vendor at the Gravenstein Apple Fair, our little town’s vibrant celebration of its most beloved fruit. We had set our sights on a hopeful, perhaps slightly unrealistic, goal of an early summer opening for the restaurant; however, midsummer was already upon us and we were still in the final phases of construction. This meant that preparing for our debut at the fair was going to bring a unique set of challenges. I had been perfecting our Inglewood burger recipe for the menu and planned to serve it with fries but hadn’t begun recipe development yet. The week before the fair, I set to work on a rented deep fryer experimenting with the humble French fry. I had dabbled in the Lowell’s kitchen with a wedge-cut style fry cooked on the makeshift stovetop fryer we use there, but it wasn’t long before I realized that in order to truly perfect the golden crunchy exterior, fluffy soft interior fry of my dreams it was going to require a scientific experiment of sorts. From time, to temperature, to type of potato, there are several variables to consider when embarking on this journey. To begin, I selected a russet potato for its almost sweet, earthy flavor. However, the naturally occurring sugars in russets browned too quickly in the fryer yielding a less than cosmetically attractive result. Rumor had it that the Kennebec is the best varietal for fries. They yield a beautifully golden crispy exterior but in order to achieve that I soon discovered that they must be frozen at the time of the second and final fry. Several dozen test batches later and I had created what I felt represented an ethereal version of the perfect fry.

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In keeping with our standards for sourcing the best ingredients Sonoma County has to offer, I engaged our friends at New Family Farm in a conversation about growing Kennebec potatoes for us, something they had never tried but were excited to experiment with. We’ve worked with New Family since the beginning at Lowell’s. They are on the cutting edge of ecological horticulture, a farm started from scratch by a couple of local guys with big hearts and a pure vision of a sustainable food shed. The love and care they put into farming is palpable in the food they grow and that’s what I’m always searching for while forging partnerships for our businesses.

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We hear over and over again in the restaurant, folks exclaiming things like “This is the best fry I have ever had!” and “What’s the secret?” Like so many things in life, the answer is love. This may sound cliché but it’s completely true. From the moment the seeds are planted, to the tender care they receive while they grow, to the cutting, poaching and freezing that happens in the restaurant kitchen, perfecting the unsung French fry is a labor of love and certainly one worth doing.

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