When Chef Andrae Bopp opened his latest venture, AK’s Mercado, a 150-seat restaurant with a full bar in Walla Walla, Washington, he knew it was somewhat of a risk. He was leaving behind Andrae’s Kitchen, a renowned eatery inside of a gas station, in favor of a full-service restaurant in the midst of a pandemic, when employees were difficult to find.
Bopp brought with him many lessons he had learned in his 10-plus years as an owner-operator, including a simple switch he made a few years ago: His upscale restaurant would continue to use Lamb Weston® frozen fries instead of hand cutting them. He found it made his employees happy, and that’s been key in creating a great work culture at AK’s Mercado.
On top of that—and what Bopp loves most about Lamb Weston’s fries—is how consistent and elevated the product is.
“They are the perfect size and texture every time, and that’s huge for us,” Bopp says. “And they are truly delicious—guests love them.”
This slideshow contains more details regarding the positive impact making the switch to Lamb Weston’s frozen fries has had on Bopp’s restaurants.
Bopp reports that the most popular menu item at AK’s Mercado is a dish he also served at Andrae’s Kitchen, Voodoo Fries: Lamb Weston® fries, Cajun spice, pulled pork, pickled peppers, and Crystal Hot Sauce aioli. He also does a version using Lamb Weston chips, pictured above. Bopp proudly namechecks Lamb Weston on his menus, and says using the company’s frozen fries and chips has led to more consistent builds for dishes.
“Before we switched to Lamb Weston’s fries, we were hand-cutting, blanching, and cooling somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 tons of potatoes per year,” Bopp says. “It’s hard to make hand-cut fries consistently, because it changes from worker to worker, and day to day. We strive for consistency at our restaurants, and Lamb Weston’s product really delivers on that.”
Bopp also says in addition to consistency, the overall performance of Lamb Weston fries is something he can rely on.
“When you go to restaurants that do hand-cut fries, they might have some that are a little limp, some that are crispy, some that are burnt or overcooked in the same basket,” Bopp says. “With Lamb Weston fries, we’re able to fry them, season them and put them on a plate. They hold up well and make the plate present better because there are no blemishes. It’s a consistency in both the look and the taste of the product.”
One hidden benefit to using frozen fries, Bopp says, is the prep time it saves kitchen staff. That time can then be used to focus on other labor-intensive tasks—in AK Mercado’s case, it allows staff more time to prepare and smoke meats.
AK’s Mercado offers a variety of dishes that leverage smoked meats—like Brisket Tacos, and Pulled Pork sandwiches—and thus barbecue occupies a large amount of Bopp’s kitchen resources. In that way, using frozen fries also helps make all of his other food more consistent.
“I pulled out a gigantic labor suck when I switched to frozen fries, and now I’m able to have my employees spend the time that’s necessary to deliver a really good smoked meat product in addition to high-quality fries,” Bopp says.
Bopp brought most of his staff from Andrae’s Kitchen to AK Mercado, but that still left him with over 40 positions to fill due to his new restaurant’s relatively bigger size. Hiring has been a challenge in the current climate, but he knows that only means it’s important to ensure that the employees he does have are happy with their working conditions. The switch to frozen fries is a place where he believes he made the right decision in that regard.
“Hand cutting fries really puts a lot of wear and tear on the bodies of your kitchen employees. I’ll never forget when we made the switch to Lamb Weston’s frozen fries, our employees were like, ‘Thank God, chef. You nailed it.’ I knew it would be a big change, but I didn’t realize how grateful my prep crew was going to be,” Bopp says.
“As a restaurateur, if you have happy employees, the rest is easy to do. Obviously, it’s really hard to find employees right now. I don’t know what the answer is, but I think we have to, as a collective industry, find ways to keep our businesses thriving. And I think the more stuff you can do to ease the work life of your employee, that is really going to help. So the frozen fry is an aspect of that, where you’re eliminating the labor of hand-cutting.”
Bopp says that if he ever expands or opens another restaurant, he cannot imagine going back to hand cutting fries. There simply aren’t many operational advantages to the practice, and he feels like he’s found the perfect frozen fry partner in Lamb Weston®.
Bopp has come to appreciate every aspect of working with Lamb Weston, who he considers a trusted partner. As a Lamb Weston Culinary Ambassador, he creates recipes for the brand to inspire other chefs and help them come up with innovative dishes using Lamb Weston products—he recently did a Dungeness Crab Fry, with Lamb Weston Stealth Fries® Thin Crinkle Cut, with beer cheese sauce and tagine spices in a layered dish. He says Lamb Weston’s fries are ideal building blocks for eye-catching, decadent dishes, due to their performance and consistency.
For more on adding Lamb Weston’s fries to your kitchen, visit LambWeston.com.