The war over fries, gravy and cheese curds

26 Apr

Every now and then, I like to get out of my comfort zone and write about something other than technology. Not only is it a breath of fresh air, it’s also a chance to learn about something completely new.

One of those “fresh” topics I’ve developed a perverse interest in over the past few years, obviously through working on Sex, Bombs and Burgers, is fast food. I find it a fascinating world comprised of many angles; there is, of course, the technological innovation side of it that I talk about in my book, but there’s also the intense competitiveness of the industry, the huge globalization of it, its role in the economic development of nations, labour and workplace issues, and the health and obesity side of things too. I’ve thus become sensitive to fast food and all the things that go on with it.

As such, I was in a mall food court about a year and a half ago and noticed that New York Fries had added something called a “poutinerie” counter. Now, poutine is one of my favourite foods, so this was of course tremendously interesting. Aside from the regular fries-gravy-cheese-curd poutine that the chain has been serving for years, this particular NYF outlet was also selling two new kinds: butter chicken and braised beef poutine.

I couldn’t help but think this was a reaction to the success of Smoke’s Poutinerie, a new restaurant that opened in Toronto in 2008. Smoke’s had quickly gained notoriety by piling different ingredients, from chicken to beef to chili to pork, onto traditional poutine, which was leading to new outlets popping up everywhere. So I did a little research and was surprised to find that, yes, it was a reaction, but also that New York Fries is a Canadian chain. With its name, I’d always assumed it was American.

That set me off on a long path that culminated this week with the publication of my story “Poutine Wars” in The Globe and Mail’s Report on Small Business Magazine. The PDF is available here or here, with the story starting on page 24. The story details the rise of both Smoke’s and New York Fries, and how their respective owners are battling for poutine supremacy.

There were several angles, including poutine’s appropriation by English Canada from Quebec, as well as its burgeoning international expansion, that ended up on the cutting room floor. I’m in Los Angeles right now and away from my main depository of info, otherwise I’d post some of that supplementary stuff now. It’ll have to wait till next week.

In the meantime, in a case of lucky timing, Wendy’s this week launched poutine at its restaurants across Canada. In conjunction with the launch, the chain is also sponsoring a “poutition,” or a petition to get poutine enshrined as Canada’s national dish (it’s a move that is sure to give Quebec nationalists heart palpitations, just like the dish itself). Once 100,000 signatures have been amassed, Wendy’s says it will submit the petition to Parliament for consideration. Signing the poutition gets you a free coupon for upgrading your fries to poutine.

Mmm… poutine. What a time to be stuck in southern California…

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Posted by on April 26, 2012 in poutine


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