AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The Internet is mad about French fries, and you can thank Lucas Kwan Peterson for that. He's a food columnist at the Los Angeles Times, and he's published one of the more controversial pieces on the web this week, The Official Fast Food French Fry Power Rankings, an effort he describes as authoritative, totally not subjective, incontrovertibly definitive and a hundred percent correct. As you can imagine, the Internet doesn't quite agree with his ratings, so today I asked him about it.
So beyond, like, the grease stains in your car (laughter), like, how did you deal with the comparison? I mean, were you side by side? Did you go to one and then race to another? How did you approach it?
LUCAS KWAN PETERSON: So I split it up over three days so as not to have too much excess of sodium and fat intake on a given day. So I went to six or seven places a day. I went to a place at a time. I didn't do a side-by-side comparison because inevitably some would get cold, which is probably the No. 1 fry killer. So I would sit there. I would eat them fresh, and I would take notes, and then I would (laughter) go and have the next fry. My cholesterol is not doing so well.
CORNISH: No, I can imagine it is not. But this is in the name of research and journalism. So...
CORNISH: The next question is, whose fries came in at number one?
PETERSON: Number one was Five Guys, which is - it's kind of elevated fast food, but I couldn't - they have, like, 1,500 locations. I couldn't not include them. And the fries are great. They're perfectly cooked. They're potatoey (ph). They're properly salted. They have a fantastic texture. And I just thought that they were head and shoulders the best fries.
CORNISH: And then in dead last, a highly controversial pick, the fries (laughter) that at the beloved California institution In-N-Out. How did they fail so spectacularly?
PETERSON: (Laughter) I myself would like to know that. The fries are fresh. I will grant that. But the fries aren't properly cooked. Typically you want to do, like, a double fry where you do one at a lower temperature to sort of cook the fry, and then you crisp it up by dropping it into the fryer at a higher temperature so you get that nice, crispy-on-the-outside, soft-and-fluffy-on-the-inside texture. But at In-N-Out, they just drop potatoes in the oil, which is not - that's not how you cook a fry. So you get these kind of mealy, little match sticks that aren't, like - they're not properly cooked. They're frequently not properly salted.
CORNISH: Now before you go on and on here, I want to...
PETERSON: (Laughter) I'm sorry.
CORNISH: ...Protect you because you live in Southern California.
PETERSON: (Laughter) This is true.
CORNISH: What has been the reader reaction to this?
PETERSON: Well, let's just say the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, came out publicly on Twitter denouncing what I wrote (laughter). So let's just say the backlash has been swift...
PETERSON: ...And merciless. There may not be a more loved certainly culinary institution in California. And to say that anything they do is wrong, much less extremely bad, is really not tolerated.
CORNISH: We should say this also comes at a time when the Los Angeles Times is doubling down on food coverage. Later this year, the food section is going to return to print. Why do you think now is the right time to return to reporting on what and how we eat?
PETERSON: I think it has a lot to do with the fact that LA is, in my opinion, certainly in the opinion of the people in the section, a lot of people in the food world - it's the most exciting city to eat in right now in the country. And we want to tell the stories of the people who are behind the food, not just reporting the food itself but also just making it a really exciting place for people to live and visit and to enjoy the bounty that is in Los Angeles.
CORNISH: That one was for the mayor, right? Mayor Garcetti, did you hear that?
CORNISH: That was Lucas Kwan Peterson, food columnist for the LA Times. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
PETERSON: Thank you so much.
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