Photograph by Anne-Marie Jackson for Getty Images.

Trend Report: How Are the Truly Elegant Eating Potato Chips?

How Bunny Mellon, Bemelmans Bar, and the Hotel du Cap serve these delightful medallions of crass nutrition.

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Oct 26 2017, 9:31pm

Photograph by Anne-Marie Jackson for Getty Images.

Meryl Gordon's recently released biography of the American antique goddess Bunny Mellon, Bunny Mellon: The Life of an American Style Legend, dishes on her redesign of the White House Rose Garden for Jacqueline Kennedy, the gardening clothes she commissioned from Cristóbal Balenciaga, her secret and not-so-secret family struggles, and a handful society and political scandals. But one detail seems to have caught almost every reader's attention: the way Mellon served potato chips.

"The late heiress was known to offer guests at her Virginia farm a bowl of Lay's potato chips," wrote the New York Times in a recent story about the Philadelphia home of Helen Hope Montgomery, a doyenne whose family would have appeared just a few pages after Mellon's in the Social Register, "but behind the scenes she ordered her kitchen staff to first remove all the broken chips."

This detail dots reviews from the Wall Street Journal to the Los Angeles Review of Books to Garden & Gun. It's an irresistibly stylized entry in the high-low ledger: potato chips are a beacon of cheap American sloth. They are limp and greasy medallions of crass nutritional values, the communion cracker of those for whom binge-watching television is a lazy religion—until you arrange them in a dish as carefully as you would lilies in a vase. Then, they become an indulgence, a little naughty, and the perfect vessel for caviar. Bemelmans serves them under the candlelit glow of its lampshades hand-painted by the eponymous illustrator. They're a staple at Harry's, Europe's first cocktail bar (the one in Florence, duh!). The chicest place in the world, Hotel du Cap in Antibes, serves potato chips at their bar, too.

But just as every opera tenor has his way of singing Puccini's "Nessun Dorma," so the truly elegant have their own style of preparing and serving potato chips. At the aforementioned Bemelmans, potato chips arrive in a three-bowl server, with cheese straws and mixed nuts completing this holy trinity that chaperones Manhattan's best martini. The chips are crisper, crunchier, and sturdier than humble Lay's; when reached for comment about the potato chips' background, a spokesperson for the Carlyle Hotel wrote by email, "They are actually just Cape Cod chips!"

But the Hotel du Cap in Antibes has them all beat. In an email, the hotel's spokesperson revealed a twist that out-chics even Bunny Mellon: "In fact the chips potatoes at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc are homemade."