You may have heard the story of how the first potato chip was made, by accident, in Saratoga Springs.
Alan Richer knows the other story.
In the more widely-told tale dating back to the 1850s, an overdressed and dissatisfied diner at Moon’s Lake House sends back his potatoes — “not once, but twice,” Richer said — for being too thick and soft. Out of spite, the chef, George Speck Crum, takes out his razor to make the potatoes extra thin and deep fries them, thinking they would be inedible, but the customer eats them right up.
Richer, a chip historian who lives on Saratoga Lake, said that’s one of a few origin stories, and he knows them all. In another, Crum’s sister, “Aunt Kate” Weeks, accidentally drops a potato into a doughnut fryer.
“And when they cut it open, that’s how it got invented,” he said.
Richer will share stories like these, along with his entire collection of chip history memorabilia, at the second annual Chip Festival set for Saturday at the Saratoga Springs City Center. The all-day event serves as a fundraiser for the Saratoga Springs Lions Club and will feature a variety of chip samples; a national chip contest judged by Culinary Institute of America dean Brendan Walsh, with winners in 12 categories; and an appearance by the Big Idaho Potato Truck, a traveling six-ton imitation spud.
Greg Dixon, a Lions Club member who co-chairs the event with Dione Ramsdill, said the festival features snacks — mostly chips but also beef jerky, salsa and more — from 18 companies. Brands include Tri-Sum of Leominster, Mass., one of the country’s oldest chip companies; Minnesota-based BjornQorn, which makes popcorn using giant mirrored sun reflectors; and, of course, the Original Saratoga Chips, which has kept the better-known story of Crum’s crispy creations alive. Wise Snacks is the presenting sponsor.
“It’s a great way to come and try some new things and learn about the history — how it fits into our region’s story — and have a good time,” Dixon said.
The inaugural chip festival in 2016 drew more than 4,000 snackers and raised $15,000-plus for the service organization, which has more than 100 members and hosts health programs on sight, hearing and diabetes. Since 2014, the group has also funded Camp Abilities Saratoga, a one-week sports camp for blind, visually impaired and deaf children, at Skidmore College in August.
Dixon said the goal this year is to “primarily have a great event” and meet or exceed last year’s fundraising tally.
Richer will have a table at the event for the second year, but he’ll have more space — 1,600 square feet instead of 900 — which is enough to fit his entire collection. He keeps most of it in a storage unit.
Through the collection, Richer promotes the oft-disputed legend that potato chips got their start in Saratoga Springs. He contends that potato chips were popularized in the Spa City regardless of the conflicting origin stories. He offers photographic evidence, like a picture from a general store in San Francisco’s Chinatown circa 1910 showing stacks of boxes labeled “Saratoga chips.”
“I show that the original name of the potato chip is the Saratoga chip,” he said. “I have all kinds of memorabilia — bags and pins and machines and photographs that all show how the name began in Saratoga and migrated across the country, and then to other countries.”
Richer said he’s thrilled to play a role in the Chip Festival, and not just because he gets to show off the collection he’s been building since 2004 when he moved to Saratoga. Growing up in New Jersey, his father raised funds for seeing eye dogs as member of the local Lions Club. The group also supported a Jersey Shore company that taught blind children how to swim.
“I think it’s fantastic,” he said.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: 2nd annual Chip Festival
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Saratoga Springs City Center, 522 Broadway
COST: $5; free for children 12 and younger