An American Tourist Broke French Twitter With a Ham and Cheese–Topped Baked Potato

Taking to social media to gush about the amazing meal you just had while on vacation is relatively normal. But having your enthusiastic Twitter thread about “the greatest potato ever made by human hands” go viral — spurring heated debated about France’s paradoxical contempt of American foodways and generating international buzz for a rare species of French potato — well, that’s a little less common.

And yet, it’s exactly what happened to Oakland resident Steve Olson while he was vacationing in France last week with his wife Melissa. After dining at a location of French restaurant chain La Pataterie on September 6, Olson posted a thread exalting the restaurant’s Pom’ au four Savoyarde — basically a baked potato topped with ham and melted cheese. The thread has since been liked more than 262,000 times and kicked off a veritable media storm, primarily (and understandably) in France. “I made some jokes, [and] went to bed,” Olson recalled to Eater SF. “It was not at all what I expected when I threw a couple f-bombs into a thread about potatoes.”

It was his wife who stumbled upon La Pataterie, which Olson describes as “basically a French Chili’s,” when the couple was doing that all-too-common vacation thing where you scan the Internet for a dinner option. The restaurant was “reasonably close” to their hotel in Arles, a city in the southern region of Provence, and Olson says they were “amused at the concept of a potato-forward restaurant” — understandable since the “pomme de terre,” or potato, is all to often relegated to the sidelines as an accoutrement to a main dish.

In the viral thread, Olson, who works in digital advertising by day, vacillates between awe at the idea of a restaurant where the potato is star and sheer incredibility at the deliciousness of the specific baked potato he ate while there. “Words cannot express my amazement,” he tweeted — a sentiment he echoed to Eater SF. “There are a lot of great baked potatoes here,” he concedes, referring to the Bay Area, though he also doubled down on the superiority of the potato in question: “[It was] easily the best baked potato I’ve had.” Elaborating about the specific qualities that made the French baked potato so ascendant, Olson describes a superbly creamy interior (he thinks it was steamed and then baked) while the exterior retained its structural integrity thanks to the “waxy and thin skin.” Plus there was the blanket of melted gruyere and ham, sides of raclette (more cheese!) and herbed creme fraiche, and a duo of cute little cornichons.

Some French Twitter users were quick to point out that La Pataterie is far from the peak of the country’s gastronomic offerings — though the restaurant chain’s CEO told Le Parisien that Olson’s thread is helping younger customers rediscover the brand, which is an “un énorme cadeau” or great gift as the company struggles due to the impact of the ongoing pandemic. Olson also used his moment in the spotlight to encourage social media users to donate money to French organization Les Restos du Coeur. Now that he’s back in the Bay, he’s calling on folks to “throw some change at” the Alameda County Community Food Bank, should they feel so inclined. And aside from his Twitter mentions remaining a “dumpster fire,” Olson says he expects things will pretty much return to normal now that he’s back home. “I don’t have a Soundcloud joke unfortunately,” he said with a laugh.

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