Belgium’s ‘Frites Academy Awards’ that ranks the year’s best chip shops has triggered outcry among Brussels and Flemish fryers as the top 15 places all went to French Walloon entrants.
“Maybe the organisers need to change their oil – or else there’s a suspiciously pro-French bias clogging up the entry and voting structure,” one counter employee at the celebrated Maison Antoine kiosk told The Brussels Times.
Beloved of generations of Eurocrats based in the nearby EU institutions, the absence of what The New York Times once called “the best French [sic] fries in the world” has been met with widespread disdain.
Results ‘completely nuts’!
Belgium's inter-regional chip shop league table, released on www.les-friteries.com, is an annual event that garners much media coverage. To win top spot is an accolade that goes to the very heart of Belgian culture.
But this year's results are more contentious than ever, featuring frituurs exclusively from the Wallonia region – an unprecedented surprise. "These results are completely nuts," declared Alexis Renwart, owner of the busy, picturesque and trademarked ‘Fritkot’ site on the revamped village square in Rhode Saint Genèse.
"I’ve been trying to enter this competition, but so have been blocked on the grounds our business has a mobile food truck as well as the flagship fixed unit,” he explained.
“We do our frites in the purest of Belgian traditions,” namely using fresh, hand-cut potatoes fried once in beef oil at 140 °C. This is then increased to 160 °C for a second blast for a crispy chip skin while keeping the flesh moist inside.
“There are more than a few expert fryers in the Brussels area – Flanders too, for goodness’ sake! They also deserve to be on the podium, certainly in my professional opinion”.
Still reeling from summer floods
Growers like Renwart’s Flemish-based supplier De Voghel conceded that last year’s exceptionally wet conditions had an impact on the quality of potatoes harvested.
Adding to the troubles were post-Brexit adjustments that saw potato seedlings from Scottish fields blocked as the UK rowed with the EU over various tariffs.
“For a spell, our regular potatoes were too small and the price shot up. But everything is back to normal and I’ll be a lot more insistent when it comes to our entry being accepted next year,” Alexis said.
While he may stop short of taking a 'Samurai' to spice up the saucy row, one expat Brit and Maison Antoine regular riffed on post-Brexit trade talks to summarise this most Belgian of controversies: "I smell a petition to get a re-run of this blatant anti-Brussels, anti-Flemish prejudice,” joked Gerry, who preferred to give only his first name.
The chips are down in Belgium’s capital...
At the time of publication, the award organisers and the head of Belgium's professional chip-fryers association had yet to respond to our requests for comment.