Columns » Chris Rose

Captain of Crunch

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I cannot imagine grazing on a Napoleon House muffuletta without first spreading a half-inch-high bedding of Zapp's across my plate, the better to catch and later savor the bits and chunks of olive salad debris.

The physical world is so crammed with stuff, things, items, commodities and objects; it is self-evident that every member of the human species takes for granted more than 99.9 percent of what occurs, evolves and proliferates around him or herself.

  Why in God's name I feel compelled to begin a tribute to a guy who made potato chips for a living with such a grandiose contemplation is beyond me, other than: a) I've written so many obituaries in the short time I've been at this newspaper that I'm desperately looking for something — anything — to put a fresh spin on the genre or, b) I can't freakin' remember the first time I ever ate a Zapp's chip — and it's really, really bothering me.

  This is not to suggest that one's first bite into one of those abundant, crunchy chunks of spiced nirvana is an experience that rivals remembering where you were, say, when Neil Armstrong stepped out of the lunar module onto the surface of the Moon, or when O.J. Simpson led his surrealistic motorcade down an L.A. freeway.

  Nor is it to suggest it's not. Whereas I do not remember the precise time nor the place — nor sadly, the accompaniment — to my first Zapp's potato chip, I do remember that, in some small way, my life was changed from that moment on.

  We all have our own great moments of personal chippery, of course. That first Dorito! I was 10 years old, at the Sycamore Store in Bethesda, Md. Again, I would never be the same.

  There is the first Chee Wee; a rite of passage for a New Orleanian every bit as significant as one's first Lucky Dog or confession (often oddly and tangentially, related to one another). And, of course, there is one's first encounter with a Pringle, a universally pleasing though puzzling episode.

  I cull these memories and anecdotes together to, in some small — and hopefully meaningful — way of paying respect to Ron Zappe, the founder of Zapp's Potato Chips, who passed on to that Great Kettle in the Sky earlier this month at age 69.

  For me, he completely altered the landscape of casual dining. I cannot imagine grazing on a Napoleon House muffuletta without first spreading a half-inch-high bedding of Zapp's across my plate, the better to catch and later savor the bits and chunks of olive salad debris that tumble out of this delicacy during its consumption. (The same goes for the shrimp and cheese po-boy with roast beef gravy at Domilise's, though I recommend the Creole tomato-flavored chip for this indulgence.)

  And then there is your basic, traditional, no-frills tuna sandwich on Bunny Bread, transformed into a culinary amuse bouche by placing a layer of Zapp's jalapeno-flavored chips between the tuna and the bread.

  For this latter epicuriosity, one is advised to peruse the contents of the bag to find the largest, flattest samples of chip — and therein lies another of the wonders and delights of a bag of Zapp's: No longer need young people descend into violence over who gets the most bent, bubbled or fold-over chips in a bag.

  Hell, half the production samples coming off the assembly line at the Zapp chippery in Gramercy came out bent, bubbled and folded over; this was no less an astonishing advancement and innovation in 20th-century dining than the development of the seedless watermelon.

  Ron Zappe: This guy, he mattered. And he was to potato chips what the Brennan family is to restaurants; there are very few failures attributed to the brand. Few, I said — not none.

  There have been so many stunning taste sensations to roll off the line at the chippery, from the subtle cracked pepper to the savory mesquite, that it's easy (and probably best) to forget the Caribbean Key Lime flavor, a truly dark footnote to the Zapp's legacy.

  "People actually took the time to call us at the factory and tell us how much they hated it," Zapp's purchasing agent Jeff Bain recalled to me this week. "That chip was a lightning rod!"

  Funny; talking to Bain this week, he professed to have never heard of the freelance recipes I have been employing for years with my Zapp's. He said he'd never progressed any further than using dip as an accompaniment to his chips — but even that accessory often seems moot, given the strong, distinctive flavors of the Zapp's brand.

  And that got me thinking: I'm sure I'm not the only guy who fussed around with Zapp's with the goal of creating an even higher order of flavor than the chip already proffers. So I thought it might be fun to solicit from you, the readers, your own recipes and rituals concerning Zapp's potato chips and next week we can pay further tribute to the great Ron Zappe and his little potato chip that could.

  Send your notions and potions my way to chrisrose504@gmail.com, and we'll see what new windows of flavor we can open on the world.

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