Deptford nurse's wasabi potato chip in the running for $1M payday

Temple nurse Meneko Spigner McBeth of Deptford, whose Wasabi Ginger potato chip flavor appears on a Times Square billboard ad.
Temple nurse Meneko Spigner McBeth of Deptford, whose Wasabi Ginger potato chip flavor appears on a Times Square billboard ad. (DIANE BONDAREFF)
Posted: July 24, 2014

Meneko Spigner McBeth was raised with Japanese delicacies, indulging in handmade egg-and-cucumber sushi rolls as a young girl, a child-friendly creation whipped up by her grandmother, a native of Japan.

McBeth continued to try new twists on Asian cuisine as she grew up in Pemberton, but what she really fell for was the Play-Doh-like, fiery, green wasabi. That adoration was only topped when she paired it with the soy sauce and shaved ginger often found decorating sushi plates.

"That was the way I had to have my sushi from now on," she said of the first time she sampled the trio together, a combination she uses to dress tuna and other fish.

And she'll take her potato chips the same way, please.

McBeth, 34, of Deptford, was named last week as one of four finalists whose chip proposals (hers, Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger) to Frito-Lay's "Do Us a Flavor" contest will enter the snack landscape next week, with a chance of remaining there.

The national competition invites consumers of the Lay-brand chip to offer their desired flavors, allowing participants to pick three "ingredients" and submit a 140-character note on their inspiration. More than 14 million submissions were received.

An online vote, which begins Monday and ends in October, decides which of the flavors becomes a lasting option on store shelves. A $1 million grand prize is at stake.

McBeth, a 13-year Temple University Hospital medical-surgical nurse, and her Asian-inspired offering are up against Cheddar Bacon Mac and Cheese, by an Ohio firefighter; Wavy Mango Salsa, by a California event planner; and Cappuccino, by a doctoral candidate and visiting lecturer in Las Vegas. The three runners-up each will be awarded $50,000.

McBeth said wasabi translates across foods - she'll often pair it with soy sauce and avocado, and uses wasabi-flavored mayonnaise on her sandwiches. Her nurse manager at Temple, Carrie Murawski, noticed McBeth's affinity for spicy foods during lunch. "She's usually sitting there with a thing of hot sauce," Murawski said, laughing.

But the competition is about more than just McBeth's taste buds.

The chip idea is a nod to her grandmother, Sayoko Wilson, 81, and her family's heritage.

Wilson, of Pemberton, emigrated from Kobe, Japan, at 22 after marrying her husband, Harry, who served in the Army during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Wilson maintains traditions from her home country, making sukiyaki - the traditional Japanese noodle dish - every New Year's Day. (That was paired with Harry's African American traditions - pork, black-eyed peas, collard greens.)

The grandparents were instrumental in raising McBeth and her younger brother - making sure they were principled, played outside, and studied hard in school - said their mother, Louise Spigner, 59, the Pemberton court administrator.

Wilson now helps watch McBeth's three young daughters (they call her "Baba"). "There's just a special touch she's got with them," Spigner said of her mother.

Christopher McBeth, 35, a financial-management analyst for the Navy, said the chip idea "gave Meneko an opportunity to express her appreciation to the world [for] her grandmother."

The prize money would also be a way for the McBeths to finance college and wedding costs for their children - Ingenue, 8; Ilania, 3; and Ileigh, 2 - when they come of age.

"We've often sat back many nights just talking about how we'd be able to pay for these types of things," Christopher McBeth said. "We have good jobs, but we have three daughters, and those things get very expensive."

Temple Hospital colleagues are rallying behind Meneko McBeth, Murawski said. They surprised her with a cake Tuesday, one that read that the wasabi ginger flavor was "the chip to pick."

Christopher McBeth was not surprised his wife submitted her idea - "this is just up her alley," he said - but the couple had a hard time believing she was up for the grand prize: "It's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing."

Meneko McBeth said she saw a commercial for the competition's finalist flavors last year - Cheesy Garlic Bread went on to take the top honor - and promised herself she'd suggest her own flavor the next time around. She followed through this year.

At Deptford Mall on Monday, as voting begins, McBeth will debut the green bags of chips - described as a wasabi "kick" with the "snap" of ginger. Her grandmother intends to attend. Earlier this month, McBeth traveled to the chip company's headquarters in Plano, Texas, to taste it and did a promotional event last week in New York City.

"Isn't this something?" Louise Spigner said. "I'm still tickled."

Meneko McBeth said of her chip: "I'm so in love with it. It was much, much better than I would have ever imagined." Christopher McBeth, no fan of spicy foods, said the chip "has that perfect balance."

Meneko McBeth brought Wilson a handful of the chips recently for sampling. "She was so disappointed," McBeth said - but for the right reason: Her grandmother wanted more. "She's excited to have the whole bag to herself," McBeth said.

"I was surprised," Wilson said, chuckling. "Real, real good."


afichera@philly.com

856-779-3917

@AJFichera

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