Food Fun: Origin Stories with a Face

All recipes are invented by someone. Sometimes, it’s someone at home  working with what’s at hand, other times, it’s a professional chef working with a well-defined goal. Some foods have legends attached to them, like the mystery of the bagel hole that is said to have been invented by a Polish rabbi to circumvent a royal order. There are times, in turn, when foods have origin stories that are too crazy to be fabrications or legends – but they are true.

Potato chips

There is no way to know who was the first to fry potato shavings until they become crisp. Someone probably thought of it ages ago, so there’s no way to know who was the actual inventor of the potato chips. There is, in turn, a fun origin story associated with this beloved snack that adds a name and a face to the mix – so let’s go with that.

George Crum, a cook at Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs, had to serve an especially picky customer a portion of fried potatoes. The patron kept sending back his fries to the kitchen saying they were too thick and soggy. After a while, Crum has had enough: he sliced the potatoes extra thin, fried them to a crisp, and served them with loads of salt. To his surprise, the patron loved the revenge food.

Up until the mid-20th century, chips were known as “Saratoga Chips”, a brand that’s still around today.


Who was the first to eat food stuck between two slices of bread? We’ll probably never know. Why is it called a sandwich, then? Well, this is another – well-documented – story that involves an English noble who was busy gambling.

John William Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, was an avid gambler – he wouldn’t leave the table, not even to eat. Hunger has probably distracted him from the game, though, so he ordered the servants to bring him some roast beef – and to put it between two pieces of bread so he wouldn’t mess up the cards.

Come to think of it, we’re lucky this practical and versatile dish is not called a Montagu – or a John.

Nashville hot chicken

There are many fried chicken recipes out there, some of them milder, others, spicier… and there is the Nashville hot chicken that’s so popular that it has an entire festival dedicated to it. Its development was an accident, apparently, attributed to a local restaurant owner and womanizer, Thornton Prince III.

Legend has it, Thornton was out one night – and his escapade was far too long for her girlfriend’s taste. To get back at him, she cooked him a crunchy chicken breakfast that she covered extra hot sauce. The revenge food, again, backfired: he liked the chicken so much that he turned it into a recipe – and the signature dish of a restaurant he opened together with his brother.

Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold – except, apparently, when it involves fried chicken.

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