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Food trucks signal a new look at lunch hour for the French
Wednesday, April 11, 2012 6:49 PM

Food trucks signal a new look at lunch hour for the French

At first, the idea sounds like a glaring paradox: serving food out of a food truck in a city known as the culinary capital of the world.

It's a notion that challenges French people to drop the knife and fork they're using to cut into their burger and eat as Americans do: clutching their hamburger with two hands, assuming the 'hunch' pose before taking indelicately monstrous bites, and letting the beef fat drip down their arms with nary a care about soiling their sleeve.

But it's also a concept that runs counter to some of the basic tenets of eating in France: unhurried three-hour lunches with linen tablecloths and bottomless glasses of wine.
Credit: Cantine California

Or does it?

It's a chance being taken by two entrepreneurs who have imported the very American idea of mobile restaurants to Paris in recent months, the second having launched last week. Both also happen to hail from the food truck capital of the world, Los Angeles.

When Kristin Frederick launched Le Camion Qui Fume (which means 'The Smoking Truck') in Paris last November selling gourmet burgers, she became the first to introduce the concept to the City of Light - a bastion of haute cuisine and home to a constellation of Michelin stars.

For months she's enjoyed food truck monopoly in Paris, where a community of underground foodie hipsters, expats and bloggers quickly helped catapult her to mainstream fame with write-ups in French daily Le Monde and the New York Times Magazine.

But last week, a new food truck rolled into town.

Expat Jordan Feilders, also from Los Angeles, launched his own mobile restaurant dubbed Cantine California.

While it may be presumptuous to proclaim the arrival of a second mobile restaurant a food revolution in Paris, the fact that both have enjoyed such fast success could point to larger forces at play.

Namely, that lunch hours in Paris are no longer ceremonial, leisurely affairs that last for hours.

In fact, a survey published last year by social protection group Malakoff Médéric, found that the French now take on average a 22-minute lunch break, compared to an hour and a half 20 years ago.

But despite the drastically shortened lunch hours, there are few take-out places other than fast-food and bakery options, a void Frederick said she noticed right away and knew she could fill.

"Paris is a metropolitan city like LA, New York and Chicago," Frederick said.  "Two hour lunches are gone."

After watching a group of men in business suits zip into McDonald's for a quick take-out meal "probably not what they wanted to"- Frederick said she knew the city was ready for street food.

Feilders is also optimistic that the food truck idea will stick in Paris. People are open to embracing a non-conventional "way of having lunch, he says.

But the French also have a deep appreciation for Americana, despite the sometimes cantankerous grumblings they can cast across the Atlantic.

This is especially true of the all-American food icon, the mighty burger, which in recent years has become a menu staple in Paris bistros and brasseries.

In addition to burgers which are made with organic beef, and hand-cut fries, Feilders' Cantine California also serves authentic Mexican fare like carnitas tacos, enchiladas, red velvet cupcakes and milk shakes.

Like Frederick, Feilders' food truck was inspired by the explosive trend observed in Los Angeles. The mixed menu is meant to reflect his Cali roots and promote the values which are in vogue there, he said: fresh, organic, ethical consumption.

After finding an organic supplier for all the animal products - eggs, beef, bacon, pork - and some of the veggies like potatoes and lettuce, Feilders worked with a boulangerie to fashion a Brioche-like Ramadan bread into a facsimile of a hamburger bun.

Tortillas are also hand-pressed for authenticity and spices for tacos imported from Mexico.

Meanwhile, burgers at Le Camion Qui Fume come topped with everything from wild mushrooms, caramelised onions and aged Gruy're cheese (Campagne) to cheddar, bacon, onion rings and barbecue sauce (Barbecue).

Launching a food truck is a big departure for the classically trained chef, who went to culinary school in Paris and worked in Michelin-starred restaurants like Apicius in France and Spago in Los Angeles.

When asked if there's room for two food trucks in the city of Paris, meanwhile, Frederick - who says she knows of her competition but doesn't know them personally - laughed it off with a ringing affirmative.

"Paris is a big city."

But where she would be disappointed, Frederick says in unequivocal terms, is if another food truck arrived selling the same thing.

Especially given the kind of innovative ideas that have come out of LA - think quesadillas stuffed with kimchi - and the limitless possibilities that exist in operating a mobile restaurant, she said.

In a parting comment that assumes that more food trucks will become an eventuality in Paris, Frederick adds:
"I can't wait to see what the next innovators do." - Relaxnews



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