How An Enslaved Chef Popularized French Fries In The United States

What started as a meal for a prisoner slowly turned into the classic fry we know and love today.

Toni Tipton-Martin of America’s Test Kitchen is an award-winning chef who is here to tell us an amazing story.

If you have ever wondered about the origin of French fries in America, this is the perfect chance to learn. The journey is a fascinating one. For starters, it is believed that the potato first made its way to Europe due to the Spanish Conquistadors.

Photo: Unsplash/Louis Hansel

From there, it is said to have made its way to the French. They were not using the potato for cooking purposes initially, though. In fact, they believed that it was best used as a form of animal feed. The potato only started to gain in popularity once a prisoner noticed how useful it could be. We really came that close to never knowing the joys of French fries.

“In France, for example, potatoes were considered food fit only for hogs. Enter Antoine-Augustin Parmentier. He was fed potatoes while he was imprisoned in Prussia, and despite the unpleasant circumstances, he liked potatoes and saw their potential as a cheap source of food. Thanks to him, potatoes became popular in French cooking. Baked, boiled, and fried,” Tipton-Martin explained.

Photo: Unsplash/Jan Antonin Kolar

The fries did not make their way over here until a chef named James Hemmings made his way across the pond. He was one of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves and he was given the chance to reside in Paris and receive formal training in French cuisine. Once his training was complete, James came back to Virginia with a pommes frites recipe. This served as the inspiration for the French fries we know and love today.

“Hemings prepared a version of Pommes Frites for the menu at Monticello. And since Jefferson was considered a cultural trendsetter, from there, French fries became a popular menu item throughout America,” our narrator adds.

Photo: Unsplash/engin akyurt

We are just glad that we are able to enjoy dining on French fries any time that we want, within reason, of course.

If you would like to find out more about French fries and how James prepared his meals, check out the videos below: