Urban Forager

Jeffer, right, with his iconic food truck and iconic fries.

In between the biggest and the best, the newest and the shiniest, lies the tried and true, the old reliables of the culinary world.

The taco, the pad thai, and the pizza, all iconic in scope, viewed as dishes that define a country’s cuisine. Singular ingredients too, when isolated, can reach reverential heights.

Such is the case with the potato. A root vegetable and member of the nightshade family, the starchy tuber transforms when it hits hot oil. The result, at its pinnacle, is golden brown and crispy with a creamy interior. Known it by its moniker French fries, or simply fries, it’s a dish as iconic as any old reliable.

But not all fries are created equal. Frozen fries lose their integrity, others are coated or battered, some are too thin, soggy or too pale — or gussied up with truffle oil and parmesan. And then some are perfect, crispy, golden and piping hot. Such is the case at Jeffers Fryzz, a testament to fry excellence.

Kendall Jefferson Treadway, or ‘Jeffer’ (a nickname given to him by his father) has plied his spudly craft for the last 35 years, serving them out of a food truck — long before food trucks were trendy. Hand-cut Russet potatoes, chipped on site — not too big, not too small — are double-fried in a mixture of beef tallow and vegetable shortening.

The result is one man’s obsession with perfection: fries that are crispy on the outside and likened to creamy mashed potatoes on the inside.

“There are 10 secrets to the perfect fry,” explains the affable Jeffer, whose trim physique defies decades spent in front of a deep fryer. Revealing only a few secrets, he lists: the oil used, the temperature, the amount of oil, and timing, which changes monthly depending on the potato and its sugar content.

“We’re very fussy,” he admits.

Jeffer estimates he goes through 50,000 pounds of potatoes a year, and has chipped roughly 2-million pounds during his deep frying lifetime. The amount of people he’s served is beyond measure. He boasts of a thousand regulars whose orders he, his son Tim, and a few young protégées at the fry station, know by heart.

He also notes that he is now serving fries to second and third generations of his Penticton customers, from all walks of life.

“It’s quite exciting to have a snow shoveller, a street person, an employee at Revenue Canada and the mayor all in line,” he says. “I treat every customer like they’re the Queen of England. I’ve got to give them the best product I can give them,” he adds.

“We love our customers.”

Choose from small, medium or large fries, or go for the poutine, a dish, Jeffer claims, he first introduced to Penticton over 30 years ago at the request of a visiting fruit picker from Quebec. The key here is cheese curds and dark rich gravy, made “velvety” by a technique he was taught by his mother. It’s gravy so popular, he sells it by the litre to many people for their holiday roasts.

The poutine can be ordered mini, regular or double with a choice of extra curds and gravy. Seasonal French-Canadian fruit pickers are big customers, ordering the double with double curd and gravy, making it a hefty and comforting five-pound indulgence.

I’ve enjoyed the regular order many times, and on a cold wintery afternoon or evening, it hits the spot with lots of black pepper, just like Jeffer prefers.

In 2016, Jeffer’s went beyond Penticton famous and took the number ten spot on The Food Network’s list of the top 10 French fry trucks in Canada.

There’s also fish — long strips of beer battered cod, perfectly cooked — served with those iconic chips. The condiment station is basic: malt or regular vinegar, salt, pepper, Lawrey’s seasoning salt, and Sriracha for a chili kick.

Jeffers was a favourite late-night haunt for nightclubbers, but since The Mule closed, the food truck is open seven days a week, rain or shine, from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at its regular, grandfathered-in parking spot in Nanaimo Square off Main Street.

Jeffer shows no signs of slowing down. He has a second food truck that he uses for weddings and late-night receptions around the South Okanagan.

“People always ask me, when are you going to retire?” he says. And his reply: “I am retired. I’m doing what I love.”

With fork and pen in hand, and a passion for culinary adventure, Shelora Sheldan, writer, cook and traveller, goes in search of the delectable.