There are some restaurants that simply understand what makes you tick, that seem to know you just as well as your buddies since 5th grade. It's a bond that develops from an unspoken form of communication. I was reminded of this magic when I recently ordered a cheeseburger and fries at the old-school diner, Joe Jr. Scanning the table, I spotted a Heinz ketchup bottle near the napkin dispenser, warm from having baked near the windowsill all day. Dissatisfied, and knowing what was required of the situation, I asked the waiter for a small favor. He returned from the fridge with a large squeeze bottle, filled to the brim, with mayo.
I grabbed the bottle and emptied a large mound next to my pile of fries. The ketchup remained on the sidelines, admired from afar, but ultimately unnecessary. There was no need to explain my deep gratitude to the waiter, for his gesture already implied the obvious: Mayo is simply a better condiment for fries than ketchup is.
You might notice the unusual spelling of my last name, Bolois. And while it is pronounced Bowl-wah, don’t think I’m campaigning for mayo to make an appeal to my European ancestors, who prefer their frites with the stuff. This is more than pride in my heritage; it’s a rallying cry for good taste.
“Where mayo amplifies the crunchy, greasy nature of fries, preserving their best qualities, ketchup aggressively drowns them in a sugary tomato bukake broth, humiliating their decency.”
The cult of Heinz ketchup has clouded our vision for what we should really want with salty, fried potatoes—something fatty, creamy, and slightly tangy. Where mayo amplifies the crunchy, greasy nature of fries, preserving their best qualities, ketchup aggressively drowns them in a sugary tomato bukake broth, humiliating their decency.
“Mayo and crispy fries is one of the greatest pairings in the culinary world. Like foie gras and Sauternes, or beer and pizza," says Matt Hyland, chef of cult favorites Emily and Emmy Squared in Brooklyn. “It doesn’t make sense to cover potatoes or anything in a sweet candy paste...it is not a great way to experience the food."
Too many people live in a ketchup-or-nothing world, blinding themselves to the realities that mayo is fat, and "fat tastes better with potatoes," says Bobby Hellen of GG’s, whose fries have been ranked some of the best in the city. “The only time ketchup should ever be used," continues Hyland, "is when it is mixed with mayo to create the base of a burger sauce.”
But culinary advice falls on deaf ears as nostalgia misguides us. Ketchup and fries at baseball games. Ketchup bottles at the 24-hour diner. I get it. Still, you should be paying proper respect to America’s #1 condiment.
That’s no exaggeration either. It’s a claim backed by numbers: Back in 2013, mayonnaise sales eclipsed ketchup sales, $2 billion to $800 million. But what’s that you whine about? You prefer it as a spread on sandwiches? One of the hallmark qualities of mayo that chefs talk about is its versatility. At least with mayo, says Hellen, “you can cook with it.” Cue food-stunt hero and LA Mag editor, Josh Scherer, who recently revealed his mashed-potato recipe secret: adding mayo.
Others argue that ketchup’s express purpose is to serve with fries: “The only place ketchup truly belongs is on French fries,” said Chris Jaeckle, who wasn't on board with my mayo superiority complex. But it’s those very limitations that make it seem small in the mighty shadow of mayo. Mayo triumphs not only because it's better with fries—it's also a more dynamic condiment, good enough to be incorporated in dishes across the board.
“There is even a subset of this group that wants to remain ignorant of mayo in the food they eat. I call those people cowards.”
Moralizing about the nutrition of mayo doesn’t help the cause of ketchup advocates either. Ketchup, for all intents and purposes, is pure sugar in the guise of pureed tomatoes. I’d like to know which mayo naysayers are counting calories when they grab a fistful of fries.
I’ve mostly been babbling on and on about taste. But for others, a vote for mayo is more than just one for flavor—it's a middle finger to a corrupt system, stained red. “I think ketchup is the successful homogenization by the industrial food companies to make everything taste the same,” theorizes Hyland. “Generations of advertising have created the unholy ketchup-on-everything consumers. Heinz owns Ore Ida Fry company, so right there you can dive into the conspiracy hole.”
Our relationship with mayo is fraught—often I meet people who are willing to eat tuna fish sandwiches, potato salad, or coleslaw, all things that benefit from mayo, and yet the concept of standalone mayo somehow disgusts them. There is even a subset of this group that wants to remain ignorant of mayo in the food they eat. I call those people cowards. They are an ugly version of our childlike selves, when we happily called things "icky" for no logical reason. Grow the f*ck up.