The other day, Deadspin's own Albert Burneko thoughtfully suggested we use pork in our New England clam chowder, which of course triggered the tiresome whine-siren of the Regional Food Authenticity Police, who are far more concerned with adhering to the exact chowder ingredients Tom Brady specified in the Mayflower Compact than they are with the more important matter of cramming a bit of life into a bowl of white and beige food.
I have no patience for strict food constructionism. Time marches on, tastes evolve, Doritos get molded into taco shells. I'm all for thoughtful or even just optimistic innovation: I put whipped avocado in my deviled eggs, because it makes them pretty; when I make pesto, I replace the pine nuts with chickpeas. (Much cheaper! Though not nearly as satisfying!) I've got no problem with a little kinkiness in the kitchen, except when it's carried out as part of a crass marketing stunt by Pepsi's junk-food division.
Frito-Lay is currently running an asinine "Do Us a Flavor" competition, because apparently it's our goddamn job to figure out the next rejected Pop-Tart filling or McNugget lube for them to peddle in potato-chip form. We're supposed to vote for one of four finalists, and I will concede that two and a half of them fall under my very broad definition of acceptably gross and weird. I'm not saying I want to eat Wavy Mango Salsa, Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger, or Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese. (What is the "mac" component of a potato chip? Pasta-flavored potatoes aren't even fit for the zombie-tongued joy-avoiders who eat porkless chowder.) But they seem at least worth a shot, and it's not inconceivable that they could become some sad bastard's favorite way to take his shortcomings out on his taste buds. I'm cool with that.
What I'm outraged about is the fourth flavor, Cappuccino, a fried-potato patsy that is clearly intended to generate the most buzz among the dipshits who buzz about gimmicky junk food (Hi!) while also garnering the fewest votes from the odd but innocent people who actually participate in this type of election. Those fuckers at Fritos know that cappuccino-flavored potato chips don't make a damn bit of sense, and they have no intention of ever producing them on a regular basis. This disingenuousness pisses me off.
Each finalist's bag comes decorated with a photo of the human who allegedly suggested the flavor, as well as a whimsical description of his or her inspiration. Cappuccino suggestrant Chad Scott explains that cappuccino is his "lifeblood," and who am I to mock that? My lifeblood is equal parts Schlitz and indignation, which is just as stupid as cappuccino and similarly unsuitable for a potato-chip flavor.
Again, I'm all for mixing things up in an attempt to broaden the culinary horizon—I've given fair hearings to waffle tacos, stuffed Doritos, all sorts of nasty shit—but that's not what Lay's is after here. They're not trying to feed us; they're trying to screw with us in a way that will get us talking about them. And here we are, talking about how they can get bent. This is not a good-faith attempt to come up with a wacky new flavor that just might work. It's another shitty manipulation by an industry that's become dependent on them.
A few months ago, Drew Magary wrote a thoughtful screed entitled "Down With Runway Food," in which he invented new compound curse-words to decry the eatin' media's fascination with ultra-exclusive food that regular people have no hope of experiencing. I agree wholeheartedly, but at least all those foams and essences and sasquatch sausages are probably pretty tasty. Down here on the chip end of the stick, the hype-generating stunt foods aren't even trying to be good.
I forced a bag of Lay's cappuccino chips on a cookout last weekend. The verdict was universally negative, although some people might have exaggerated their disgust with the actual product to emphasize their annoyance with the very concept. A pastry-chef friend said it reminded her of a Starbucks Mocha Coconut Cappuccino, which could have been a compliment, but wasn't. Someone else said they reminded her of cinnamon-dusted pita chips (also not in a nice way). To me, they tasted brown-sugary and stupid; it probably wasn't one of the 10 worst things I've eaten this year, but that doesn't mean Lay's cappuccino chips have any reason to exist.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter@WillGordonAgain.
Image by Jim Cooke.
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