Saturday, November 24, 2007

"Chips and Dip": Potato Chips with Truffle Dip

I've had a hard time getting started on writing this entry because I had a rather unpleasant experience with Dean & Deluca regarding the black truffles for this dish. I debated whether or not to even bring it up here on the blog, but decided to do so.

I have always been forthcoming about not just my cooking, but also my shopping experiences as part of this project. Up until this most recent experience, things in the shopping department have gone rather smoothly. I'm really lucky to have access to some amazing vendors, and I've only been disappointed in the quality of my ingredients twice -- and know that it was my haste in making the decisions that caused the quality to suffer.

I've always been open about sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to cooking The French Laundry Cookbook, and now, unfortunately, I have to share the dishonest. I'll be fair; but in being fair, I have to take a swipe at what many consider to be a reputable purveyor of fine foods.

Let me start off by saying that this isn't my first time tasting, smelling, cooking with, or eating black truffles. I know what they're supposed to look like, and I know what they smell like. However, because this was the first time I was buying black truffles on my own, I did a lot of research before making this purchase. It's been a tough season for truffles, and they're more expensive this year than in past years. I was going to order them online from Urbani, and in hindsight, I wish I had.

Instead, to save money on shipping costs, I called all my local purveyors to find out their prices and sources of black truffles and was pleased to learn that the charcuterie department at Dean & Deluca in Georgetown said they carried fresh black winter Périgord truffles. Their prices were comparable to other sources, and by having them available locally I wouldn't have to pay for shipping. I was thrilled.

When I got to the store, I should've trusted my instincts and turned right around and gone home once I saw they stored the truffles on a bed of rice in the charcuterie case. But, I gave them the benefit of the doubt (stupid me) and bought the truffles I needed to make not just this dish, but a few others in The French Laundry Cookbook that called for black truffles. I asked them to wrap the truffles in damp paper towel before putting them in the plastic container for me to take home.

When I got home and did the prep for the dish, I got out my truffle slicer and sliced one truffle. You'll see in the photo further down this post that what they sold me were not fresh black winter Périgord truffles. They're brown on the inside, not black. They didn't look or smell like black truffles I'd worked with before. Instead, they appear as if they were preserved summer truffles (Click here to see what the insides of different truffles look like) or perhaps Oregon black truffles.

I moved ahead with making the dish, but saved the rest of the truffles, didn't use them, and called Dean & Deluca to find out why they sold me something other than what they claimed were fresh black winter Périgord truffles. The charcuterie manager claimed not to speak English and hung up the phone. I called back and spoke to an assistant store manager who claimed that the truffles actually were from Italy, or maybe Oregon (he didn't know for sure), and he didn't know why I was told otherwise. When I asked for a refund, he hemmed and hawed and after I told him I might have to call the Washington Post's food section to get their help in figuring out this "mystery," he finally agreed to give me my money back.

When I shared my experience with one of the company's customer service managers, she told me this was not the first call they'd received about this store with regard to its truffle sales. She said that when you order them from Dean & Deluca online or via their 800#, they are shipped directly from France. At this point, I don't know who to believe, so I probably won't go to them again for something this pricey.

I went back to the store for a refund, and the cashier and floor manager were overly apologetic and refunded my money without question. So, the lesson in all this is buyer beware. I don't plan to buy truffles from them again, and based on this experience, I'll think twice about buying anything other than a cup of coffee or pastry from their café. Honestly, I was thrilled and surprised to be given a refund. I didn't think they'd keep their word.

I'll also confess that during all this back and forth with the store and the company, and even writing about it tonight, I feel a sense of apologetic guilt. Maybe guilt isn't the right word to use, but with other more important things going on in the world today, it feels uncomfortable to bitch and moan about something as extravagant as truffles. Were they expensive? Hell yes. Can I afford them? Yes. But that's not the point. What it comes down to is the fact that I can't stand being lied to, or having someone think they can pull the wool over my eyes on something that is so easily proven or figured out. I think that's what bothered me more than anything -- that they assumed I wouldn't know anything about this product I was dropping a few benjamins on and that they could get away with selling me something inferior for the same price as something far greater.

I was really pissed off about this the day it happened. I fantasized about suing for millions of dollars and retiring to the beach. I dreamed of standing next to the charcuterie counter for weeks on end telling every customer not to buy the black truffles. Today, I feel like the company did what they have the power to do: refund my money. Will they correct their employees' description of the product? Probably not. There's nothing I can do about that. And, I'm not so angry that I'm raging all over the Internet and demanding a boycott of Dean & Deluca. That's stupid. I didn't trust my initial instincts, and I got burned... so I take responsibility for my part in this, as well. From now on, I'll continue to do my research and be aware of what food is supposed to look/smell/taste/feel like... no matter what the price point.

Whew. Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I want to write about this dish. Despite the inferior truffles, it didn't suck and it was really easy to make. Here's the mise en place:

I preheated the oven to 300 degrees and melted the clarified butter. I peeled and sliced the potatoes into thin ovals, and sliced the truffle:

I put a Silpat onto a baking sheet, brushed it with the clarified butter, and sprinkled kosher salt on it. I laid the potato slices on it, careful to keep them in the order they were sliced. In between two potato slices went a truffle slice.

I brushed the top of each potato-truffle chip with clarified butter, then placed a Silpat on top of them, followed by another baking sheet to weigh them down and keep them flat:

The French Laundry Cookbook instructs the user to bake the potato chips for 25-35 minutes in a 300-degree oven. I know my oven temperature is reliable, so I was surprised to see that these suckers needed to be done at a higher temperature for longer. I ended up having them in the oven for almost an hour: half an hour at 300 degrees, then up to 350 for 15 minutes, then 375 to get them to start to get golden brown. Even after all that, you'll see in the final shot that they're not evenly brown. I'm not sure if it's because the potato slices or truffle slices weren't thin enough, or what caused these not to work as I'd hoped. They stayed together (as you'll see in the final plating photo), but they weren't up to my expectations.

While they were baking, I made the crème fraîche truffle dip. I minced the remainder of the truffle I'd sliced for the chips:

In a bowl placed in a larger bowl of ice, I whisked the crème fraîche until it was stiff. I mixed in some of the minced truffle, truffle oil, salt and pepper:

Right before serving, I garnished the top of the dip with the remainder of the minced truffle. Here's the final plating photo:

I don't know if the chips are supposed to get completely crispy; mine didn't. They weren't mushy or droopy, but I don't think they were done correctly. My neighbors came over and we sampled them -- spooning a little bit of dip onto each chip. The kids tried them, but didn't love them. There was no escargot-level gagging, but it wasn't something they were fighting over. The adults enjoyed them and the plate was emptied pretty quickly. None of us were necessarily ooo-ing and aaahhh-ing over them, but they added a little warmth on a cold winter's day.

Would I make them again? Not with the cost of truffles this year. The crème fraîche truffle dip was lovely, and I was thrilled to have some left over so I could toss it with some penne for dinner the next night.

Onward and upward, as they say...

Up Next: Black Sea Bass with Sweet Parsnips, Arrowleaf Spinach, and Saffron-Vanilla Sauce. I was planning to do a whole series of truffle dishes this week, but I'll get to those when I can order real truffles. Stay tuned.


You know where the truffles came from; not gonna beat a dead horse
Vermont Butter & Cheese crème fraîche
Potatoes from Whole Foods
Saveurs truffle oil

Music to Cook By:
Sondre Lerche; Faces Down. A friend of mine had Lerche's music on his iPod because he'd heard a few of his songs in the movie "Dan in Real Life." I've since downloaded a few of his albums and I'm really loving them. Lerche's music is lively and lovely, and while he hails from the same land as one of my favorite bands EVER -- A-ha -- his sound is completely different. I especially like his cover of "Let My Love Open the Door." It's sweet and earnest without being twee.


brian said...

My money's on your potato cuts being thicker than what the testers for the FL recipe used. It says to cut them "paper thin" with a mandoline in the cookbook, and yours don't look from the photo quite as transparent as I'd expect for paper-thin cuts.

That would explain both the longer cooking time and them not getting totally crispy. I always find that with my fried starchy stuff -- unless it's impossibly thin, it can never get fully crispy unless it's a bit burnt -- you can't dehydrate and brown the slice all the way through.

Just a guess, though. These look great. I might try them with some less-expensive mushroom in the center.

Unknown said...

Sad to hear that the truffles were not as advertised... and disturbing to think how some higher-end places may be taking advantage of the growing "gourmet" market that doesn't know any better (I sure wouldn't) but glad that in the end, it was handled well and to some satisfaction.

And damn.... with cocktail party season (and me with nothing better in mu current "to try" list than mushroom phyllo triangles) those look GOOD. Those would be a great cocktail party munchie. But I'm kinda glad I cannot begin to think to afford truffles to bring to people who think Budweiser is an acceptable beer.

Anonymous said...

Although I haven't made this dish, I have made the chips with truffle custards and and found that I had to cook those chips for longer and at a higher temp. as well. But when they were done they did get nice and crisp. It just took a couple of batches to ge the time right. Sorry about your bad experience.

Peter M said...

I'm glad there was a happy ending to your truffle troubles.

I learned more about them with this read and in all fairness, D & D management did the right thing in giving you a refund.

Carol Blymire said...

Brian: I think you're right. I tried to do them paper-thin, but they turned to mush. I think I need a different/better mandoline to achieve that. I've had my eye on a Japanese one for months. It's probably time to make a purchase.

Peter M: Yes, they did do the right thing in giving me a refund (despite the fact I had to push them more than I should've had to), which is why I told the whole story. It was the dishonesty at the outset that I thought was important for people to know about. The refund was very nice, and unexpected. They did the right thing. Let's just hope they fix the root cause of the problem.

Sally: Glad to hear it's not just me, and I'll make a note in the book re: the chips for the truffle custards. Thanks for letting me know.

MrsVJW: It's worth trying these, even using Oregon truffles. They still taste good, and "you'd be the smartest thing on the block." :)

Liz said...

I like the idea of putting a thin slice of mushroom in the center of the potatoes and serving that with the truffle dip. Sounds wonderful and might work better with domestic truffles.

I have a Benriner mandoline and I adore it. Not to mention the packaging advises me that it has "Wonderful sharpness, speed and Completion" (caps theirs) and that much can be accomplished using their "New double possible blade".

I've used it to make the potato ravioli from one of Jean Georges Vongertichten's cookbooks, so I know it slices very thin.

Anonymous said...

Carol, I'm sorry about your truffle experience, and even sorrier for the people (like me) who wouldn't know that these were not the real deal. I'm surprised that this high class purveyor would engage in such shenanigins. And you're right--it doesn't sound like they were horrified by the mistake and will change their ways. What a shame--for them and for consumers.

I, too, am guessing the chips were too thick. I have a good mandoline (but not a Benriner); it works well for the things I'mve done, but I've not tried to achieve paper thin cuts. Now you have me in the mood to give it a try.

brian said...

I was gonna say, maybe waxy potatoes would hold up better than mealy, but I see the cookbook explicitly calls for russets.

I've been eyeing the Kyocera adjustable mandoline at the cooking school store next to my office, and according to Amazon it adjusts from .5mm to 3mm, and it's less than 30 bucks. If I used my mandoline more often I'd probably get it (I'm trying not to use my mandoline to force myself to improve my knife skills lately. Heh.) Anyway, that's pretty cheap and 0.5mm seems like it would *have* to be thin enough.

Karen said...

Here's the line that still has me speechless and agog: "The charcuterie manager claimed not to speak English and hung up the phone."

No, really?? SERIOUSLY?!?!?! Because that--that is just beyond the freaking pale. That a manager in an American store would weasel out of a customer complaint by claiming not to speak English? That is like something out of a sitcom.

I'm glad the dish turned out satisfactory in the end, but I can't believe the flavor wasn't colored just a little by this incredibly unpleasant experience. I'm glad you shared it with us.

Anonymous said...


That was very strong of you to follow thru on the quality of the truffles you were sold.

I wonder though if there is not some small thing you could do to make sure others don't get stung also?

Marilyn said...

Sorry to hear about your truffle troubles (sorry, couldn't resist). Even if things didn't work as well as they might have, it looked like an interesting experience. As humans, we tend to learn more from our misadventures, so...

Anonymous said...

Yikes, glad to know that I opted for Lipton Onion Soup mix dip this Thanksgiving instead of les truffes. It was much less of a hassle, but sounds like it was appreciated just as much without all the bickering with D & D.

(I love that about the manager not speaking English and hanging up. I wonder if I can do that in reverse around here?)

michael, claudia and sierra said...

it is so disheartening when you do the research, and then the run around town - and then it's not what it was supposed to be. because it's not just the $ it's all that time and effort... so not cool. shame on them.

i so so so love truffles. LOVE them.


Anonymous said...

You know, I've had some iffy experiences with that D&D branch too (I live about 5 minutes away...). At least they gave you a refund; I suppose that's all they could do. But it's so frustrating!

Anonymous said...

Just love reading your blog with your culinary adventures. I can tell your expertise is far beyond my own; I am a rep for Demarle at Home (selling Silpats/Flexipans etc) and we recommend using a perforated baking sheet with Silpats- wondering if that would make a difference with your 'taters? Keep up the fun wonderful blogging, thanks!!

Anonymous said...

In my view keep it simple with luxury ingredients. Use truffles for fresh pasta or scrambled eggs, pure and simple. BTW, I heared that truffles are very expensive this year and the quantities are low in Europe.


Anonymous said...

Well, of course they're not truffles, there's no can of chocolate frosting!!

Seriously, thanks for the heads-up on D&D. Just their luck to try to defraud the author of one of the most popular blogs in blogdom.

Can I come over for the truffle dip with penne? Please? (I get along great with dogs!) It sounds divine.

Roberto N. said...

Besides the cutting, I think using parchment paper works slightly better than silicone mats for crispy chips.

Anonymous said...

BAH! How annoying. I once had someone sell me poisonous mushrooms deliberately (seriously, could have killed my and my boyfriend, just from the fumes!) and when I confronted them they said it was my choice to buy them. Excuse me, WTF? Just goes to show, Buyer Beware is alive and well. I'm glad it all turned out okay for you though! Can't wait to see what's next!

Anonymous said...

The Wegmans where I shop also offers their truffles on a bed of rice...from what I understand, it's an acceptable storage method...?!

Anonymous said...

I have made these chips for the cover picture recipe(standing in egg custards) for a New Year's party (let me not embark on my experiences about trying to saw through eggs, suffice it to say the custards were baked in porcelain egg-cups). The experience has been identical (and yes, I DID mandoline the potatoes paper thin, which caused a whole new problem of trying to peel them off of the Silpats). In the end, they did stand in the custard, if only for the first 15 minutes...

Rachel Luxemburg said...

Coming late to the game, but I'd bet on the slicing thickness being the issue.

Mercedes said...

Eek, I have to say I've had several quality issues at D&D, and try not to buy things there. But I agree, the most frustrating part of an experience like that is the awful feeling that someone's lied to you. No fun.

Hope you have better luck with future truffle dishes.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate you bringing up your experience at D&D. As a novice, I would have had no idea I was getting the wrong truffles. Too bad it took an inferrior experience to teach that lesson...

Anonymous said...

Ahhhh potatoes!
I agree, it's a thickness issue, they are supposed to get crisp!
I love your blog!

Elizabeth said...

Just discovered your blog and I'm enjoying it very much. Unbelievable about the truffle fiasco. Thank goodness they gave you the refund.

Nic Heckett said...

It is nearly impossible to find good truffles in this country. They go stale in a few days, and the ones you see at Wegmans and other stores are probably weeks old. I was chatting about this with Jane Black at the Post food section, she said that almost all the truffles in the market come from farms in Spain and are sold as French. I think that very very few Perigord truffles come to this country at all, and those that do are snapped up by top restaurants. I doubt that home chefs can find good truffles in America, unless they are lucky enough to know someone in Oregon who can get them fresh. I hear that native Oregon truffles are quite good if they are ripe and fresh. You can find dealers on the net, but personally I wouldn't trust them, even in Europe you can get ripped off big time buying truffles, sprayed down with artificial aroma, weighted with birdshot etc. Better skip them for ten years, then go to Piedmonte or Tuscany in November, or even to France (slight Italian bias there, huh?) and do them right. Truffles are nice but vastly over-rated IMHO. Give me morels any day. Love your blog. Nic heckett - Woodlands Pork

andyg4 said...

Carol, just bumped into your blog yesterday, really enjoying your adventures in the kitchen.

It's amazing how many minor and major kitchen screw up you can avoid when follow your gut instincts on ingredients, techniques and such.

I agree thickness being an issue with the crispiness. Sounds like the perfect excuse to buy that Japanese mandolin. I'm sure you'll soon wonder how you survived w/out one.

Another factor with the potatoes can be the age. Produce company often will "cure" or age potatoes for accounts that use potatoes for french fries or potato chips. Just after the new crop of russet potatoes are harvested they will have a elevated level of sugar. This will prevent them from getting golden brown and crisp, instead they will be either light and not crisp or way to dark. You can avoid this by aging the potatoes a couple weeks minimum, above 50 degrees. I find that potatoes that have the first sign of sprouting and are a little soft to the touch are perfect for frying applications.

Last point is the butter, it really needs to be completely clarified, and and used liberally. You are basically frying the potatoes in the butter.

Sorry about the long post, must have been all those afternoons prepping the pommes anna and maxims. Uncrisp potatoes would alway send the chef into a tizzy. Bon appetite,


Unknown said...

Not surprised to hear of your experience at D&D in Georgetown. My partner was their first Executive Chef when they opened. Suffice to say, they treat their employees no better than their customers.

Anonymous said...


I have had my own battles with D&D in Georgetown with mixed results. I must ask, did your threat to call the WaPo mention the blog and your loyal legion of crazed readers, or was the media threat, presumably with choice words such as "fraud", prove sufficient...