This video made me a bit angry. I did not know if I wanted to laugh or cry until he said the resulting tortilla was “as good as what you would get in Spain”. Then crying was definitely the appropriate response.
If we were just deliberating the novelty of the idea, this latest video would then become nothing but a minor infraction. It would be just a case of Food & Wine magazine being slightly behind the culinary curve and no more. However, given the reach and standing of the publication, it turns out to be a real faux pas that requires further scrutiny. After all, it has been well over a decade since the notion of using potato chips right out of a bag was first postulated as a viable technique for producing something vaguely reminiscent of a tortilla Española. Perpetuating this erroneous idea only confuses those still not familiar with the real thing.
In trying to find the origins of this travesty, I read that Ferran Adria first promoted the potato chip-egg combo as something innovative and sweepingly modern in his super exclusive restaurant El Bulli. His overpriced restaurant now defunct, I expected “chipzilla” to quickly become a mere blip on the radar. However, another Spanish chef by the name of Jose Andres, also prepared one of these junk food hybrids during a hurried segment on the Today Show. The result, once again, was less than stellar and it made me call into question his good taste and his culinary chops. Why this idea seemed to persist was really beyond me.
It would have been forgivable if instead of Jose Andres, an obscure chef with another nationality and background had tried to convince me that it was cool and kind of funny to make a tortilla Española out of greasy junk food. Having not one, but two Spanish born chefs support the notion was, on the other hand, rather discouraging. It felt like they were admitting that tortilla was as good as crap anyway and you might as well not bother to prepare it properly because nobody would notice the difference. Anyone who has ever tasted a real, authentic tortilla (click for my recipe) would know this is not the case.
What makes this an egregious mistake is the simplicity and beauty of a dish that is slow food at its best. It is the most traditional, uncomplicated, affordable and utterly delicious of dishes. Nothing about its succinct preparation requires any “hacking”. It’s also the kind of food that people enjoy in the company of family and friends. Every half decent get together in Spain must prominently display a tortilla among the food served. In fact, you can usually count on several variations of this classic with delicious ingredients such as mushrooms, roasted peppers or eggplant.
And yet, this last iteration of the chip disaster takes things to a (hipster) new low. In a stroke of genius, Mr. Bissonnette proceeds to eat his creation from a bag. I suppose this is designed to promote that very “healthy” habit of eating alone in the comfort of your own vehicle. I can’t figure out why, if he goes through the trouble of standing in front of his stove with his ridiculous chips and wasting perfectly good olive oil, he then proceeds to plop that stuff in a bag to eat it. At a minimum, he could put it between two pieces of bread and make a bocadillo or something else remotely civilized.
Yet the most baffling thing is that except for peeling a handful of fresh potatoes, (which takes no time at all) Mr. Bissonnette is going through pretty much all the same steps it takes to make a real tortilla. The only difference is that he ends up with some kind of substandard, soggy mess. That is rather dumb and hardly expeditious. Has he even considered that his version hits you square between the eyes with an unholy amount of salt, fat and who-knows-what kind of additives/flavorings already present in the chips?. I can’t help but thinking that he just needs to get some real potatoes. They are cheaper than chips and far better for you. Besides, the proverbial broke college student (his targeted audience) with his empty pantry and his hangover, the twenty-something who has only chips in his cabinet and two lonely eggs in the fridge does not have good Spanish olive oil anywhere in the house. He probably has some rancid Crisco. Let’s not go there…
If it were a joke, I could excuse this trite exercise of “hacking” a traditional recipe and turning it into something absurd. However, Food & Wine seems dead serious in their misguided effort to pass it off as serious cooking. In their attempt to reach a younger audience, they have opted for a kind of a rather pedestrian approach that only leads to bad cooking and worse eating.…Why not follow up with a Bouillabaisse made with canned Chicken of the Sea or a good helping of Mole sauce made with Nesquick? What self proclaimed hipster recipe hacker wouldn’t love that?
I sometimes feel discouraged that the modern world’s love affair with fast food is still going strong, but publications such as Food & Wine have the responsibility to push against it by educating about good ingredients and healthier eating. For the most part I enjoy the articles I find in this magazine, but this one really made my stomach turn a bit. If tradition continues to be understood as a musty, rancid concept in dire need of revamping, cheap, low quality foods will always be able to fill in that gap. Instead, let’s remind everyone that food is, if anything, tradition. It is deeply rooted in the climate, land and culture of a country. Innovation always has a place in the kitchen, but I understand progress as the ability to improve upon what is already there without destroying its essence.Clearly, when talking about tortilla Española, potato chips mixed with eggs will never come close to the real thing neither in form, nor spirit.