Talking Shop: Removing Your Fingertips

Uprofessional Cookery

Have you ever given a waffle fry a good think?  No, seriously, have you?  Like not just  in a “Waffle fries…  word…” kind of way as you’re sitting there on your couch all chill after a session or something. I’m meaning have you ever really thought about where waffle fries come from while sober as a judge?  I mean, it’s not just me, right? You got me? (Hand held hanging in the air.)

Okay, well, forget you.

Anyways, if you DID give a second thought to those waffle fries when you’re not deep into that mellow, you would probably know that they’re technically called a pommes gaufrette and that they’re cut exclusively on a mandolin slicer. A slicer that would gladly slip your fingertips clean off given the slightest inkling of a chance.

Now how do those potatoes sound? Pommes gaufrettes appear suddenly kind of cool, eh?  Kind of.. dangerous?  (Other hand held hanging in the air.)

Really guys?  Well fine. I’m just going to pretend that you think that this subject is just as cool as I do for the time being.

As I was saying, the pommes gaufrette when cut well is a beautiful thing.   Delicate and airy, the pommes gaufrette (Flourish!) is not just the standard shape of Chik-Fil-A and afterschool sporting event potatoes nationwide.  No maám.  Pommes gaufrette are way better than that thanks to the history rich, super dangerous mandolin slicer from whence they came.

The exact origin of the mandolin is hazy, but it can be definitively shown to be used as far back as the 16th century in Italy.  Bartolomeo Scappi, a famous renaissance chef who was most noted for cooking for Pope Pius VI, first illustrated the use of a slicing board in his book Opera dell’arte del cucinare published in 1570.  Although Scappi was the first person to illustrate an early mandolin in use, it is speculated that it had been in use long before this book came out.  (He also didn’t call it a mandolin.)

Between the 16th century and the 20th, not much had changed on this primitive slicing board.  If the slicer had worked well since the dawn of Italian cooking time with its wood base and razor sharp blades…  well, you get the idea.  However, by 1930 someone had bigger ideas for the rustic mandolin, to bring this amazing slicing dynamo out of nonna’s kitchen and to the masses.  No longer would people have to suffer through flat french fries, potato chips and maybe an errant carrot here or there thanks to Marcel Forelle, creator of the first metal version. (Monsieur Forelle dubbed this thing the mandolin.)

Unlike Scappi’s bladed cutting board, Forelle’s mandolin featured a moveable cutting platform to ensure a uniform cut as well as any depth of cut that the chef desired.  The modern mandolin also came with straight blades as well as toothed blades to create a variety of shapes.  The modern mandolin took off like wildfire, and just a few years later companies such as Bron, Benriner, and Boriner were cranking out slicer after slicer like the wafers of a radish.

I bet you’re saying to yourself that this is mildly interesting and all, but it doesn’t explain how pommes gaufrette go from being a  potato to a work of art.  You see, although the  mandolin is an extremely simple device in terms of construction, its infinite in terms of its possibilities with some creative thinking.  Somewhere along the line someone figured out that the easiest way to create a criss cross pattern was to make a cut using a notched blade, then to turn the vegetable 90 degrees and slice off another bit.  Then they just repeated this indefinitely.  The result was the iconic fast food shape that we’ve come to know and love today.


See?  I told you the history of the mandolin was relatively interesting.  Hopefully you’ll remember it the next time you’re trapped on the couch, wishing that the place down the street would just read your thoughts already and take your order for some pommes gaufrette.  Because, you know, that would be awesome.

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