Christopher Sell's restaurateur credentials are solid: He was trained as a French chef, managed a chain of London sushi restaurants and has been in the food industry for over 20 years.
Yet the 36-year-old native of Rugby, England, isn't earning his greatest culinary acclaim with foie gras or fugu — Sell is the creator of the celebrated fried Twinkie.
"It does seem odd in a way — I'm a gourmet chef," Sells said, grinning over one of the freshly fried, golden confections. "It would be depressing if the height of my career were deep-fried Twinkies."
And yet fried Twinkies and the other deep-fried desserts on Sell's menu, like Mars Bars and Reese's Peanut-Butter Cups, have been a runaway success, with mentions in The New York Times, the international press and television news. Sell's English fish-and-chips restaurant, ChipShop in Brooklyn, N.Y., will even be featured in its own segment on the Food Network.
The fried Twinkie's origins, however, are fittingly humble. Shortly after opening his shop some 14 months ago, Sell and his cohorts did what any red-blooded Brit would do with an industrial deep fryer: They began frying everything they could get their hands on. And then ate it.
Fried Mars Bars, long a Scottish delicacy, were a no-brainer for the crew. M&Ms fell through the fry basket and burned to a crisp. Peppermint Patties were a disaster that Sell can't even bring himself to think about. Then someone suggested tossing Twinkies, a peculiarly American snack Sell had never before encountered, into the vat of 400-degree oil.
And fried Twinkies turned out to be a revelation.
They actually taste very good. The white vanilla filling inside the Hostess treat infuses into the golden spongecake and lends a surprisingly delicate, banana-like flavor. On the outside, the batter Sell dips the Twinkies in becomes crispy while the inside becomes soft and somewhere between fluffy and pudding-like.
"They come out with a souffle-like quality," Sell said.
He continues that high-falutin' comparison with the presentation, sprinkling the still-hot Twinkie with confectioner's sugar and serving it atop a four-berry coulis.
"I wanted to make it look as though it came from a fancy restaurant," Sell said. "I'm making fun of myself more than anything else. I'm selling fried Twinkies — I can't take myself too seriously."
Customers' reactions were mixed one busy lunch hour at the ChipShop.
Video producer Eric Rochow, 39, said they were similar to Krispy Kreme donuts, only better. His lunchmate, Chris Johnson, a 41-year-old hotel investor, didn't say he loved it — but said he knew who would.
"My daughter would go for this," he said.
Freelance writer Jared Shepard, 24, raved and said it took Twinkieness to a whole new level.
"Whatever it means to be a Twinkie, it's completely different when it's fried," he said.
But some just couldn't get over their anti-Twinkie prejudices.
"I'm kind of against Twinkies, or anything with a shelf life of 2,000 years," 27-year-old Brooklyn waiter Asa Davis said, looking dubiously at his dessert plate. "I don't want to add Twinkies to my diet just because they're fried."
Davis was joined by the ChipShop's own waitress, Susan Miller, 24, who said she scarfed down plenty of fried pizzas and candies growing up outside Glasgow, Scotland, home of many deep-fried oddities. Now she sticks to the restaurant's salads.
Even Sell admits fried Twinkies are best as an occasional goody.
"Man cannot live on fried food alone," he said during his lunch break, and dug into his chicken pie — baked.