October 2022

A quarterly publication dedicated to sharing untold stories from our favorite muses and creators.

Chip or Treat
Natasha Pickowicz

Most people assume I must crave sweets constantly—I am a pastry chef with a passion for sugar, after all. But the truth is that my palate runs very, very savory. My idea of a treat isn’t a modest square of chocolate or a creamy scoop of ice cream. It’s not a bag of gummy worms or a big, soft cookie. It’s something salty, crunchy, greasy…ideally, it’s a massive bowl of chips.

At my tiny apartment in Brooklyn, I’m always making space to entertain friends and family. And while I love to execute elaborate, from-scratch menus, my parties always begin with a little something I like to call the “house salad.” There’s no vinaigrette, olives, or croutons, and certainly no leafy veg.

Here at Chez Pickowicz, the house salad is an ode to the mighty chip in all its forms—often including a variety of store-bought crisps, crackers, nuts, and puffs, arranged extravagantly and served in a giant bowl.

When I’m browsing the grocery aisles for chip salad mise en place, I’m inspired by bougie chip brands like Terra, who have been manufacturing “exotic” melanges of root vegetables for decades. I also look to my favorite restaurants—which, I’m happy to report, have been adding potato chip-based appetizers to their menus with greater frequency.

In Manhattan, the Basque Taverna Ernesto’s layers warm potato chips with glistening shards of jamon. At Toronto’s Donna’s, the kitchen tops a heap of iconic Canadian chip Miss Vickie’s with a vinegary spray of pepperoncini and tinned sprats. And at Williamsburg’s beloved Marlow & Sons, chef Ryoko Yoshida tosses plain Ruffles with toasted peanuts seasoned with chili de arbol and citric acid—every chef’s favorite secret ingredient.

There are as many infinite formulas for creating the perfect house salad as there are varieties of chips themselves. The tricky part? Narrowing down the choices from your corner bodega. When it comes to ingredients, you are limited only by the extent of your own depraved cravings. If you’re feeling decadent, you can always supplement your house salad with a shake of hot sauce, some chopped giardiniera, a jar of fish roe, or the contents of your favorite tinned seafood packed in olive oil.

Ready to bring chip salad into your home? Imagine you’re making an actual salad: start with a fluffy, classic potato chip—that’s your plain kettle chip, ruffled chip, or Lay’s style chip—as the “lettuce.” The “crouton” can be something small and crunchy—like a corn nut, crisp chickpea, or candied peanut—or something ephemeral and airy, like a Chinese shrimp chip or a pillowy cheese puff. The “dressing” is your choice of a few heavily seasoned chips—intense, aggressively flavored varieties like Kobe beef, oven-roasted chicken, or honey butter are easy to find at many Korean, Chinese or Japanese grocery stores (I prefer H Mart, Sunrise Mart, or 99 Ranch Market for their labyrinthian, comprehensive snack aisles). Layer them all together and your guests will be rewarded with a salty, vinegary, spicy, cheesy, and sweet treat.

This isn’t a recipe; there’s nothing to bake or cook. But it’s also not about just opening a bag of pretzel sticks and setting it next to the punch bowl. Every dinner party should begin with well-considered house salad—there’s no need to wait for dessert for the treats to come out.

About Natasha Pickowicz

Natasha Pickowicz is an NYC-based chef and writer whose pastry work explores the relationship with baking and social justice. A three-time James Beard Foundation Award finalist, Natasha’s recipes and writing have been published in the New York Times, Vanity Fair, Wall Street Journal, Bon Appetit, Saveur, Food & Wine, New York Magazine, Cherry Bombe, and many more. Natasha currently runs a pastry pop-up called Never Ending Taste, and her debut cookbook—which weaves unique baking recipes with stories of her family, social justice, and food history—will be published by Artisan Books in 2023.

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