Europe is crazy about organic food and the trend has been growing steadily over the past several years. But can organic break into the fast food market? A French fry shop owner in Munich is convinced it can.
Can French fries shake their unhealthy, non-gourmet reputation?
"It's complete nonsense," said Bernie Heiler in response to the assertion that organic and fast food are mutually exclusive. He opened his "Pommes Boutique" in downtown Munich in March 2006 with the aim of bringing the two together.
The eatery may be inconspicuous from the outside, but his regular customers say his French fries are bit thicker, crunchier and tastier than your average fry.
But for that matter, Heiler -- with his muscular figure, five-o'clock-shadow and blue jeans -- isn't your average French fry maker. And neither is his boutique a typical French fry hut. With its black floors, magenta and green walls and modern wooden tables, it's a place guests don't mind eating slowly in.
"If you create a nice atmosphere and work with high quality products, you can most certainly create a counter-product that's accepted by people," said Heiler, who didn't want to open just another corner stand. Judging by the long lines that form at the counter around lunch time, Heiler's business philosophy seems to be working.
No surprise: Raw vegetables also make an appearance
Early in the morning, Heiler stands in the kitchen himself to chop celery for the vegetable snack pack. Indeed, French fries aren't the only option on the menu: There's also organic garlic bratwurst, cous cous with organic lamb and feta cheese in a sesame nut crust, for example.
Two-part Belgian fry process
But, of course, Heiler places special emphasis on his main product and even has his favorite potato variety imported from Belgium.
Of course, everyone has their own idea of what makes a French fry perfect, but for Heiler they have to be crunchy and "definitely taste like potatoes."
To achieve the desired affect, the fry maker turned to a Belgium recipe. Step one: Cook the potatoes in grease for two and a half minutes. Step two: Take them out and let them cool before sending them back to the fat bath.
The cooling process in between closes the pores on the potatoes, makes for a crunchier French fry because they don't absorb more fat the second time around, said Heiler.
Then comes the hard part: choosing from 20 different sauces to accompany the freshly fried strips. Spicy Samurai sauce or Andalusian sauce with onions and tomatoes? Or maybe diesel sauce with curry? In Germany, ketchup alone would be too boring and even the corner French fry stand offers a few different varieties.
The boutique sells a good 200 orders of fries everyday. Whether businessmen and women in suits, mothers with young children or students with books under their arms, most of his customers choose a German classic -- currywurst and fries.
Heiler still eats an order of fries himself everyday -- with a clear conscience. After all, one portion of his French fries contains more vitamin C than a portion of lettuce, he said.
Does organic taste better than conventional?