Eddy Merckx demands the best cooking oils
"I like to eat fries. But they must be light."
"I like to eat fries. But they must be light."
Is there a more optimal format for the potato than the chip? Boiled potatoes are too stodgy, lacking in mouth-feel. Steamed potatoes are like boiled potatoes, but steamed. With mash, well, we’re getting a bit closer. But chips? Ahh, chips. Salty, crispy, perfection.
In the cycling world, it’s the Belgians that have, I feel, most eagerly grappled with the question of potato format and delivered the best answer. Their frites are chips at their most optimal. Narrow beams of potato, fried to a golden ratio of chip-crust and chip-meat. Salt it up, chuck it in a cone, spurt some mayo on it, serve it with a tiny wooden fork, and call it a day. At the Belgian classics and along the railings of a CX track, cycling and the potato chip achieve their most perfect union. Or so I thought.
Enter a print ad from the 1970s.
As you can see, we are dealing with Eddy Merckx at the peak of his powers, naturalistically captured in his home (or at least a home) with a full-sized metal forkful of frites and a surprised smile on his lips. He is wearing what I want to call a turtleneck, but truthfully, the neckline is ambiguous. His wife, Claudine, looks on with amusement, like Eddy has just said something roguish. She is on the cusp of a guffaw. She also has some chips.
Artfully framed by two half-full (half-empty?) goblets of water is a third chip receptacle. There are so many chips on it. It is, I think, a more generous serve of chips than Eddy and Claudine can manage themselves, even in the off-season, but perhaps they cooked more for the photographer. Almost out of frame is the suggestion of a bowl of salad. That is a Healthier Choice, so I can see why the advertiser is art-directing its erasure.
There are a lot of words happening in this ad, none of them in English. Luckily, I am fluent in [typing] Belgian [words into Google Translate].
Eddy Merckx (bold, shouted): “I like to eat fries. But they must be light.”
Claudine Merckx (whispered quickly): “Yes, you will understand that I have to watch out for Eddy’s food. Especially since he likes to eat well. Easily digestible and tasty, but with a little bit of attention, the two can easily be combined. I only make fries with Resi. That is vegetable frying fat. And very healthy. Resi also adapts to all temperatures: it does not burn. With Resi, I’m sure the chips are always crispy and very, very light, just like Eddy likes them.”
Advertising tagline bottom right (distant voice, carried on the breeze): Completely-non-greasy-fries.
This advertising masterstroke is brought to you by Resi, manufacturers of a natural frying fat made out of soybean and sunflower oil. Tragically, Resi no longer appears to be a standalone entity – it has been absorbed by a company called Vamix NV, which may sound like a topical eczema ointment but is in fact a subsidiary of another company called Vandemoortele. I know all of this because I wanted to ask them questions about Eddy Merckx generally, and whether he still recommends their oils specifically. Unfortunately, Vamix NV does not have a website of its own and Vandemoortele doesn’t acknowledge the existence of Resi in their product database.
But they do have other stuff going for them. Vandemoortele (“shaping a tasty future!”) is a multinational collective of “passionate food people” in existence since 1899. They have, I learned, “two business lines; one in bakery products and the other in margarines, culinary oils and fats.” Their website invites you to “enjoy their integrated report.” I invite you to find your thrills elsewhere, for instance in the fact that they have a product called the ‘Croissant Recto Bikini.’
Resi, according to local sources, is still available in supermarkets, but seems to be pitched at the nostalgic frites enthusiast. Its packaging is kind of retro (although not as retro as in the above ad), and contains four bricks of 500 grams of consolidated vegetable chip fat. They do not mention Eddy Merckx on their packaging, and the market has adapted over the years to the point that most chip fat is as “very healthy” as Resi (52% saturated fats). At least it feels less icky than 100% filtered beef fat, which was its chief competitor in the Merckx era.
But does Claudine still boil up a vat of Resi in pursuit of completely-non-greasy-fries, just as Eddy likes them?
That I do not know. In searching for answers about Eddy Merckx’s contemporary chip fat recommendation, I can find nothing. I have looked through hundreds of pictures of the man himself, looking for just one where he had a chip poised somewhere between plate and mouth. I have seen pictures of him struggling with a cardigan at the Tour of Oman, pictures of him looking morose at the football, pictures of him reclining on a ferry with Fabian ‘We Know Where The Fingers Are‘ Cancellara.
Eddy Merckx is one of the greatest cyclists of all time, but he is also just a man, with wants and desires, preferences and peccadilloes. His wife says that he likes his chips both easily digestible and tasty. He says that he likes to eat those chips. But they must be light.
We may never truly know Merckx, but – thanks to the wonders of the internet, and a print ad for oils from the 1970s – we are a little bit closer to understanding something, at least.