Let's be upfront: I'm a Heinz devotee, and I'm not shy about it. When I come across menus that advertise some artisanal house-made ketchup instead, I wonder why the chef doesn't do something more worthwhile with his time, like build a better french fry. As far as I'm concerned, ketchup was perfected long ago, and you know it when you see the number 57 on the bottle. Heinz's overwhelmingly popular formula, as the New Yorker astutely observed back in 2004, hits all five fundamental tastes on the human palate: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami. You can't really do much better than that. Complain all you want about high-fructose corn syrup — Heinz has an answer for that, too.
Lately, I've noticed a few restaurants offering a different kind of ketchup, one with some stuffy-looking mustachioed stranger wearing a monocle and top hat on the label, called Sir Kensington's. The sheer presence of this dubious parvenu is often enough to make me change my side order from fries to salad.
Related: Ketchup Gets Classy
The vigilant folks at Zagat have also noticed this creeping condiment insurgency. In the video below, editor James Mulcahy follows Sir Kensington's co-founders Scott Norton and Mark Ramadan in their David-versus-Goliath-style struggle to solve America's chronic Heinz addiction. Norton and Ramadan call themselves "disrupters" of the Heinz-dominated ketchup market. Sean Telo, executive chef at Extra Fancy in Brooklyn and fierce Heinz advocate, hilariously likens them to vacuum cleaner salesmen.
Despite the daunting task ahead of them, the Sir Kensington's guys are beginning to gain some ground. In a blind taste-test, conducted by Zagat, four out of five participants shockingly preferred Sir Kensington's. Still, it's a hard sell. Even restaurants that agree to carry the stuff, like Manhattan's Le Rivage, admit to keeping bottles of Heinz in the back because customers demand it. Burger chain Clarke's Standard offers customers the choice of both — perhaps to compensate for those comically tiny tomatoes.
Will Sir Kensington's ever succeed in usurping the Heinz juggernaut? Says Mulcahy: "Only time — and a whole lot of fries — will tell."
See the full video here:
Try more condiments on Food Republic: