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Boise’s Fry Guy writes book about favorite dish

Boise Fry Co. owner Blake Lingle has written an illustrated guide to his favorite fried food. (Joe Jaszewski)
Boise Fry Co. owner Blake Lingle has written an illustrated guide to his favorite fried food. (Joe Jaszewski)

Blake Lingle’s favorite potatoes are a type of purple Peruvian called All Blue.

He particularly likes them with rosemary salt, which he said pairs well with their nutty, earthy flavor. Plus, “They’re almost neon purple, and they stay purple through frying – which is really cool.”

For him, fries are something to be celebrated. They’re not a side dish. They’re a main course.

Lingle is co-owner of Boise Fry Co. and author of “Fries! An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Favorite Food.” Published in April, the book – Lingle’s first – offers a funny ode to fries, one of America’s best-loved fast foods.

The 144-page, hand-size hardcover is a bright, quick and campy read. Lingle describes it as not quite a cookbook – although it does include a recipe or two – but part history, part pop culture and part coffee table book.

“I hope it has widespread appeal,” he said – particularly in his home state. After all, “Potatoes are pretty synonymous with Idaho.”

Idahoan J.R. Simplot founded J.R. Simplot Co., which first invented the mass-produced fry in 1948 and streamlined the process in 1953, according to “Fries!” The book includes five chapters, plus an epilogue on the future of fries, and covers everything from cooking oils and coatings and top fry-eating countries: Belgium, the Netherlands, the U.S., the U.K. and France, among others.

Look also for the 20 steps for the making of mass-produced fries and a “fry algorithm,” which maps out temperatures and boiling, baking and frying times for steak, shoestring or regular fries – and what to do if they’re overcooked. (It’s simple: “start over.”)

Lingle’s love affair with fries started in the 1980s as a kid and led to a boyhood obsession with McDonald’s, which he credits for fries’ mass appeal and popularity. Now 35, he still loves fries and eats them about three times per week.

He likes his fries hand-cut and skin on. But don’t serve them to him in a cone or – worse – on the side. Lingle believes fries should be served in a large, wide-brimmed stainless steel bowl as the star of the show, not an afterthought.

While he prefers those purple Peruvians – they’re a top-seller at Boise Fry Co. – Lingle likes Idaho potatoes, too. In fact, he said he enjoys all Pacific Northwest potatoes – Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon grow lots of them, too – especially organic tubers. Lately, he’s been switching up his order, getting sweet-potato fries with vanilla salt and chipotle aioli.

Take Lingle’s word for it. In recent years, Food Network and Travel + Leisure magazine have both ranked his Boise Fry Co. fries among the best in the country.

Fries, he said, “are definitely going through a renaissance here in the U.S. The science behind frying is getting a lot more intense.”

Still, he said, “In America, you get the sense that fries are secondary foods.”

Lingle was born in Burley, Idaho, and grew up in Boise, where he graduated from Timberline High School in 1999. He studied economics at Boise State University, then lived and worked for about five years in the Washington, D.C., area. A government- employee-turned- fry-cook, he learned about the fry business by what he calls “trial by fryer.”

He thought: “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a restaurant where you could choose your fries?”

At the time, he was torn between two restaurants: One that he thought had a better burger and one that he thought had better fries. It also bugged him that “you never get to choose your fries. They’re kind of just thrust upon you.”

Lingle found his business partner, Riley Huddleston, now a celebrity chef in Chicago, through an ad on Craigslist. They co-founded Boise Fry Co. in 2008 after Lingle moved back to Idaho. Today, the Boise-based, regional chain has about 60 employees at five locations, including one in Portland. Each location goes through about 1,000 pounds of vegetables – mostly potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams – per week.

Boise Fry Co. sources its potatoes from M&M Heath Farms in Buhl, Idaho. They’re fried in GMO-free sunflower oil and served unsalted. Customers get to doctor them up with house-made seasonings salts and dipping sauces. At happy hour, they’re buy-one-get-one-free.

Lingle’s publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, found him in 2013 after “Yahoo! On the Road” featured him in a fry-off with celebrity chef Fabio Viviano. When he opened the email exploring the possibility of writing a fry book, “I actually thought it was spam at first.”

Lingle worked on the proposal and draft on nights and weekends for nearly three years. He also traveled to France, Belgium and the Netherlands for research, which included eating fries at every meal for a week.

“I did it, initially, for the first day as a joke, and then I just kept it up,” he said.

Lingle had a list of about 20 fry sites he wanted to see, including the Pont Neuf, or New Bridge, which stretches over the Seine River, connecting the Right and Left banks in Paris with the Île de la Cité

“A lot of people think that is where the first fries were sold commercially,” Lingle said. Others, particularly Belgians, believe fries originated in southern Belgium.

“I was convinced I was going to solve the riddle of where the first fry was cooked,” Lingle said.

He didn’t. But, “Observing fry culture was really interesting, especially in Belgium and the Netherlands. People are very prideful about them.”

He is, too. In fact, Boise Fry Co. is looking into opening more locations, expanding to Coeur d’Alene and maybe Spokane.

“I love it up there,” Lingle said. “It’s on the radar. Probably in the next two or three years, if things continue to go well, we’ll hopefully get up there.”

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