Your Favorite Chef Is Probably Using These Frozen French Fries

"Don’t waste your time — you can’t make them better."

french fries
Photo: masci91/Getty Images

Chef Ari Kolender is deeply obsessed with potatoes — French fries in particular. They are all over the menu at Found Oyster, his beloved Los Angeles restaurant that is dedicated to meticulously sourced seafood. They arrive to tables in a neat puddles next to the restaurant’s tender lobster bisque roll, or piled high on top of plates of buttery little neck clams that were hand dug from Maquoit Bay in Maine, or just as a mountain on their own given that “a plate of frites” is one of the most popular items on the menu. The French fries — perfectly golden brown, crisp, and deeply satisfying — are so popular that the child of a regular even refers to the bivalve palace as “the French fry restaurant.” So what’s the secret? Kolender only uses frozen fries. Lamb Weston Supreme 1/4" Shoestrings to be exact. “They are the Rolls Royce of fries,” says Kolender. “The idea that house-made is always better is false.”

Kolender isn’t alone in his allegiance to pre-made, frozen fries. Matthew Hyland, the chef and restaurateur behind concepts like Emmy Squared and Pizza Loves Emily, swears by Simplot Foods Megacrunch fries. “I used to make fries by hand while working at the Breslin in New York City, and as amazing as those were, these frozen ones are still better.”

June Rodil, the sommelier and restaurateur behind Goodnight Hospitality in Houston, Texas, is also a huge fan of the Simplot Megacrunch (“It’s the perfect and equal balance of starch and crispy fried goodness,”). She is also a fan of the Ore-Ida Crispers. Armani Johnson, the former chef at ABC Pony in Washington, D.C., swears by the Le Fermes Cavendish Farms line of frozen fries. Robert Hartman, a former sous chef at Saison, says Lamb Weston Crispy on Delivery 3/8 inch Regular Cut fries are a “unanimous favorite among the staff'' at family meal because of their pillowy texture and how long they stay crisp. Although there is sometimes a stigma around frozen products, a number of chefs pointed out that frozen doesn’t always mean poor quality.                                       

Frozen French fries are big business. According to the consumer research group NPD, French fries are the number one food consumed in restaurants, and in 2019 Americans ordered 10.7 billion servings of fries in restaurants. Kim Cupelli, the VP of marketing at Lamb Weston, says the company sells over 5 billion pounds of fries globally each year. Yes, that is billion with a “B.” Flip Isard, the founder of Frites Street, a much smaller producer of frozen fries based in Arizona, says that they sell 40,000 pounds of fries a week that they ship all over the country — and that they are now building a new facility to keep up with rapidly increasing demand. 

French fries are often mistaken for one of the easiest items to make on a menu — it’s just cut potatoes deep-fried in some oil, no?  But making truly great house-made fries— ones that are crispy and not soggy with a fluffy interior — is an incredibly labor intensive process. One chef, who asked to remain unnamed, even admitted that the process was so intensive for making fries at his restaurant that he had staff members quit over making them. 

Matt Conroy, the chef at Lutece, in Washington, D.C., which serves gorgeously golden fries that are made in-house, explains that the process takes close to two days before the fries are even ready to be served. A cook first washes and preps the potatoes (Conroy says his team used to peel the potatoes, but realized they didn’t need to, which managed to save them a little bit of time) and runs them through a fry cutter. The potato pieces are then rinsed thoroughly, or soaked, to help eliminate some of the starch, and then blanched by gently frying them at 300 degrees in the restaurant’s single fryer. The fries are then laid out on trays and frozen at least overnight, often for two days. The freezing process helps to draw more water out the potato so it results in a crispier fry. The fries are pulled out of the freezer before service and fried once again, seasoned, and served. At Lutece, Conroy says they go through so many fries — 100 pounds of potatoes a week, at least — that they have one prep cook dedicated to the job.

Labor and space remain the largest hurdle to French fry-making in restaurants, says Rodil. “Do you know how many fries people eat? Do you know how much square footage people need for prep space to rectify the supply and demands of all this?” There’s just never enough labor or enough space. It’s a struggle Kolender knows all too well: at Found Oyster, where the kitchen is just a couple hundred square feet, his team cooks 40 cases of frozen potatoes a week that they store in a dedicated fry freezer.                                 

There’s also the price point. At Lutece, each order of house-made fries comes seasoned with roasted garlic oil, fines herbs, and multiple dipping sauces. But at just $7 per order, it’s one the cheapest things on the menu. Conroy isn’t totally sure he can raise the price tag on the fries, even though inflation on the cost of goods is through the roof. “A case of potatoes was $40 before Covid, and it shot up to $90 and that doesn’t even include the price of frying oil.” (Conroy says that it used to cost the restaurant $48 to fill their fryer with oil, but it now costs $90.) The finances will never be worth it, says Kolender. “You can only charge so much for fries at the end of the day.” 

In many ways, using frozen fries also solves consistency issues. Potatoes can vary in size, shape, and starchiness. “You just never know what you are going to get week to week, season to season,” says Kolender. “Especially if you are buying farmers market potatoes.” In comparison, companies like Lamb Weston and Frites Street are able to buy at such a scale that they can ask farms to plant specific varieties and control for certain features. Frites Street sources their Kennebec potatoes from a farm in Idaho that grows over 84,000 acres of potatoes, and Lamb Weston works with several farms across the Pacific Northwest as well as a large team that is dedicated simply to growing the most ideal potatoes possible in terms of size, shape, and texture. “All we are thinking about every day is how do we grow a better potato and make a better product,” says Cupelli. “We invest a lot in the agronomy world to optimize potatoes for different growing conditions and characteristics.”

Then there are what these companies like to call “coating technologies.” While Frites Street prefers not to offer these coatings, Lamb Weston, Simplot, and others sell lines of fries with technologies like ”Stealth Coat” and “Clear Coat” and “Megacrunch.” These coatings — which are typically a proprietary blend of starches from plants like rice — help create the optimal fry. They ensure an even golden color, and more importantly, the coatings help the French fries achieve and maintain the ideal texture. “We can’t make a crispy enough French fry, so we keep investing in different batter technologies,” says Cupelli. One of Lamb Weston’s latest coating inventions? The “Crispy Upon Delivery” line of fries, which come with a promise that the fries will remain crunchy for up to 30 minutes once it has been removed from the fryer. 

Companies like Lamb Weston and Frites Street like to see themselves as helping hands for chefs. 

“We pride ourselves on being the silent sous chef, and taking the stress and labor out of the product,” says Isard of Frites Street. “We find that we are helping the restaurants save money on the labor front, too,” he adds. “We take all the angst and hassle out of the process for restaurant owners,” says Cupelli. “We like to optimize the process and take all of the hassle out of the back of house.” Instead of having to spend at least two days prepping the potatoes, chefs can simply fry off a bag that has been prepped for them. 

“Even if you have a virtuoso in the fry game that can knock out prep in lighting time, it’s still best to [dedicate their] time elsewhere in the kitchen because the consistency, the financial return, and the time you save for other tasks will never be as good as the frozen fry,” says Rodil. A lot of chefs liken the use of frozen fries versus house-made ones to serving Heinz versus house-made ketchup. There is already a superior product out there on the market that everyone seems to like better anyways — so house-made isn’t really worth the effort. Or as Nick Montgomery, chef and co-owner of Konbi in Los Angeles, put it in a passionate all-caps DM: “F------ buy [the frozen fries]. They’ve spent millions of dollars over decades perfecting them. Don’t waste your time — you can’t make them better.” 

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