Black History Month 2022

As we complete Black History Month, Wine Chips is pleased to celebrate the inventors of the Potato Chip: a brother and sister of African American descent from Saratoga Springs, NY in the 1850s: George Crumb and Aunt Katie Wicks

The origin of the potato chip is a humble, yet unlikely story. The most common version (and the one we subscribe to) is set on a chilly winter evening in 1853 at Moon’s Lake House, a popular restaurant in the resort town of Saratoga Springs, New York. The details are hazy, but generally the story goes like this:

On that fateful night, the railroad baron Cornelius Vanderbilt, titan of industry and one of America’s wealthiest men, was dining at Moon’s Lake House. Mr. Vanderbilt was used to having things his way. Disappointed by the fried potatoes he’d been served with his supper, he sent them back to the kitchen, demanding more thinly sliced ones.

Back in the kitchen, Catherine Adkins Wicks, (known by friends as “Aunt Katie”) was hard at work.  Her brother, celebrated chef George Crum, was widely-known across the U.S for his brook trout, lake bass, woodcock, and partridge, among other dishes—making him perhaps the first celebrity chef in America. Aunt Katie was no slouch in the kitchen either, and she was proud of her accomplishments. While Crum was busy running his part of the kitchen, Aunt Katie got word of Mr. Vanderbilt’s complaint and frankly, was having none of it.  Peering through the door, she caught sight of Mr. Vanderbilt, sitting tall at his table exuding an overall attitude that she could only describe as self-important.  Nobody sent back her potatoes.

Fuming, she and George consulted, and then got to work slicing a batch of fresh potatoes so thin each one was virtually transparent. Aunt Katie then proceeded to fry them to an absolute crisp and serve them to Vanderbilt personally with her own touch of self-satisfied attitude. To her surprise and consternation, Vanderbilt loved them.  Initially torn between dismay and disappointment, she promptly refocused her attention on her accidental discovery: VOILA! the potato chip had been born.

Soon this revolutionary culinary curiosity became all the rage among social elites of the day.  Aunt Katie’s chips quickly became a gourmet delicacy served at fine hotels and restaurants. Passengers aboard the luxury liner R.M.S. Berengaria nibbled theirs alongside roast pheasant. One could even buy a sterling silver potato chip server at Tiffany's for added flair. This is the image of the potato chip that Wine Chips strives to reclaim: luxurious, decadent, delicious chips to be discovered and enjoyed at the finest wineries and gourmet food establishments in the world.

Nevertheless, any way you slice it (and as innovators ourselves, we prefer our slices quite a bit thicker and with a crunch-inducing lattice cut), we all owe Aunt Katie and her celebrity chef brother, George Crumb, a debt of gratitude!  Be it by accident or furious rebellion against a legendary captain of industry, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the genius of what Katie produced, with her brother’s help, that cool evening in Saratoga Springs.  Like many inventors before her, she met adversity head on and turned what could have been a bitter disappointment into a legendary success for us all to savor for generations to come.

African Americans have long been a potent force in our lively, entrepreneurial food universe. From such pioneers as Aunt Katie and George Crum to the many leaders of today pushing forward in business and culture, the Wine Chips family is thrilled to rejoice in their  contributions.