In this week's installment of Tabletop Wrestling, Sonja Groset and Hanna Raskin slug it out over whether any restaurant should ever serve any ketchup but Heinz.
Sonja Groset is a loyal Heinz partisan.
When I grab a seat at a burger joint or bar, and see a bottle of Heinz® ketchup in front of me, I know I'm at a place that understands and appreciates their customers. They may grind their own beef and bake their own buns, but they know that Heinz is the best ketchup. Heinz is the taste of childhood--that perfect balance of salty, sweet, pungent, and tart. Why mess with perfection? Other ketchups, so-called "gourmet" ketchups, are too chunky and not tangy enough. Why would you spend $10 on something you can get for $3?
The easy-to-imitate, impossible-to-replicate formula of Heinz® ketchup is this: 3 parts vinegar, 2 parts sugar, 1 part tomato, and 1 part kick-ass. What's kick-ass, you ask? It's that indescribable, mouth-watering flavor food scientists cooked up in a lab. It makes 5-year olds, 75-year olds and everyone in between smile. It's also called umami, but I call it kick-ass. I invite you to do the same from now on.
As kids, ketchup made eggs taste better, gave meatloaf a much-needed kick, and was fun for dipping French fries. It is such a part of childhood in the U.S., Heinz® capitalized on that fact with this commercial in 1979: ">"Your mom doesn't buy Heinz?! Wait 'til you taste it!"
Do I put ketchup on a steak? No. Is it critical for a burger? Absolutely. At The Met--where they age their own beef, serve steaks with housemade jus, béarnaise, or blue cheese sauce, and servers where tuxedos--what ketchup do you get for dipping your French fries? Heinz®. Take away my Best Foods mayonnaise, pre-sliced bread, chocolate chips, instant oatmeal, Triscuits, and just about every other convenience food and condiment I love. Just don't fucking touch my Heinz ketchup.
But Hanna Raskin thinks it doesn't have to be all-Heinz, all the time.
Here's what makes my side of the debate so difficult: Sonja's right. Heinz is the best ketchup out there. As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his famous New Yorker piece probing Heinz's preeminence, the company's ketchup gorgeously needles the tongue's salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami receptors. Nobody can improve upon it.
But I'm not ready to rescind restaurateurs' right to try. To be clear, I'm not talking about Hunt's Ketchup, which I remember being imbalanced and watery, or its even cheaper competitors. If a restaurant's aiming for a middle-brow condiment selection, it should have a standing Heinz order. And if an upscale kitchen's too busy to produce its own ketchup, Heinz ought to be its brand of choice, too: I have no problem with a ramekin of Heinz at a white tablecloth restaurant.
Yet there are restaurants which understandably don't want to yield control over something as essential as ketchup. Chefs who specialize in ketchup-friendly foods such as burgers and fries may have a very specific flavor profile in mind which even Heinz can't meet. At Bagger Dave's, my favorite burger chain anywhere, the ketchup's produced expressly for the restaurant (probably by a Heinz subsidiary, but let's pretend it comes from a crack team of Michigan tomato experts.) The ketchup's crafted to match Bagger Dave's burger, which is a claim Heinz can't make.
I don't expect to see Bagger Dave's ketchup on a grocery shelf anytime soon. But when I choose a restaurant, I'm interested in how its chef interprets ingredients and assembles a meal. I don't dine out so I can pay homage to Heinz.