If I know anything about Americans, it’s that we’re fat, lazy assholes who want everything as quickly as possible, and in quantities larger than we should reasonably consume. (Do you know you can now buy pre-sliced frozen pizza? It’s true.) Even when we’re after gourmet chips, we want to be offered an entire store aisle filled with bright colors and flavor combinations our feeble brains would never come up with on their own. Kettle Chips, the Oregon natural-chip company, not only wants your help, it’s offering you a glimpse behind the potato-chip curtain.
That’s right: It’s the Kettle Chip Challenge. From a press release: “There’s no denying that making (and munching) Kettle Brand® Potato Chip flavors all day is a dream job,” said Carolyn Richards, Kettle Foods chief flavor architect. “Now, we’re letting our fans in on the fun, giving chip artists everything they need to dig in and create their own customized flavor.”
That’s right, lardass, you’re an artist now. Your canvas? Plain, unsalted Kettle chips and seven flavor packets, all conveniently packaged in a box with some already available (and delicious) Kettle flavors, including the extra-tasty Buffalo Bleu variety. The box is available at kettlechipchallenge.com for a mere $15, including postage. You don’t even have to get up from the computer!
Anyway, on to the packets. The packaging was disconcertingly plain—just white envelopes with the various flavor names machine-stamped on the side. Your color palette includes lemon butter, caramelized onion, roasted tomato, cheddar, vinegar, sweet chili, and sour cream and chive. We put on our lab coats and dove in.
The taste: Our initial instinct, as the children that we are, was to make a “suicide” chip, mixing all of the flavors, but we held off on that until we tried some combinations that might actually work. There were only four bags of “blank” chips to start with, and we weren’t entirely sure how much of the powder to dump on them—in spite of the imaginary lab coats, we were entirely unprofessional. So unprofessional, in fact, that we completely missed the recipe suggestions proffered within the package. These included “spicy ketchup,” “grown-up mac n’ cheese,” “French onion dip,” and “nachos.” But that’s fine, because the “create-a-chip challenge” is all about originality and expressing yourself. It’s like Facebook in that way.
So we cooked up some decent ones, after opening and sniffing (no, not snorting) all the powders. They all smelled pretty decent, except vinegar, which knocked everyone who tried it on their asses. (Vinegar in powder form = very strong.) Our first concoction was tomato and lemon butter, a curious combination that wasn’t an outright success, but didn’t send anyone running, either. It turns out that you don’t need to know precisely how much powder to add to the chips, because only a certain amount will cling to the damn things anyway. We went pretty light on these, and they were okay. Will they win the “create-a-chip challenge,” where the prize is a year’s worth of Kettle Chips? Probably not.
Next up: Cheddar and caramelized onion. Again, a little meh. Like the Americans we are, we weren’t thinking outside the box, even though we like to think that all we do is think outside the box. (Really, there is no box.) For combination number three, we dug into the deepest recesses of our palates and came up with a flavor that will knock the balls off your ass—and it better win the contest that we’re too lazy to actually enter. That’s right: Kyle Ryan’s magically delicious vinegar and sweet chili. Though the vinegar was too much for many of our Tasters, this is clearly a flavor combination that needs to be explored further and given a snappy, clever name and tagline that combines British and Mexican sensibilities. (Try not to be too racist, okay, armchair marketers?)
Finally, we couldn’t resist the urge to dump some powder from each bag into the last bag of blank chips, creating a powdery mess of suicide chips. It wasn’t the worst thing ever. In fact, Doritos could probably shit out a worse flavor without even trying. Overall, though, this was far too much work for people who just wanted to eat some chips. That’s why we hired you, Kettle Chips! You do the work for us! Give us the illusion of choice, but don’t make things too stressful. We’re trying to get fat over here, okay?
Bonus round: Elliott Smith (his real name), a local sales guy, is jockeying hard to replace Internet Eating Sensation Dave Chang as the guy who’ll eat anything, so we mixed him up a drink containing water and some of each flavor packet. He dutifully drank it and proclaimed that it wasn’t too bad. He doesn’t dress as snappy as Chang, though.
• “First it’s barbecue, but it finishes like scampi.”
• “It’s not terrible, I kind of like it.”
• “It went from bad to good in a few seconds.”
Cheddar and caramelized onion
• “It just tastes like powder.”
• “Totally underwhelming.”
• “The cheddar powder looks exactly like mac-n-cheese powder from the box.”
Vinegar and sweet chili
• “The vinegar overpowers everything.”
• “Oh, it burns.”
• “Don’t be a wuss; these are good.”
• “This is like what they would eat in Logan’s Run.”
• “It tastes like the air in a seafood restaurant.”
Where to get them: Kettlechipchallenge.com now, and apparently Cost Plus and Fred Meyer later this summer. Whatever wacky combination wins this contest will be revealed in October. There are already hundreds of fan-created recipes on the site, too.