PARIS, FRANCE – 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.
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 eat” –- 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, caramelized onions and aged Gruyère 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.”
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