By Elena Berton | USA Today
This French city is long hailed as the gastronomy capital of the world, blessed withMichelin-starred restaurants, celebrity chefs and top culinary schools where people learn to appreciate the finest delicacies since childhood.
But the notoriously food-fussy Parisians have now developed an appetite for an unlikely culinary offering — food trucks selling gourmet burgers, tacos and pulled pork — to the chagrin of French officials, who reluctantly began to sanction them.
It’s more than a fad or unfair competition for traditional cafes.
“Food trucks are a new culinary trend and must get real recognition as part of French gastronomy,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said.
Authorities this year gave the green light to a select number of food trucks to trade regularly at 40 designated areas of Paris for one year beginning in July. The successful 56 trucks were chosen from 158 applications, based on food quality, respect for the environment, looks, plus the potential to create jobs.
That’s good news for the hungry and patient customers of Californian Kristin Frederick, 34, credited with starting the trend here.
Four years ago, the graduate of the prestigious culinary school Ferrandi in Paris began selling gourmet burgers — such as the “Bleu” with Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese, caramelized onions and port wine sauce — from her itinerant Camion Qui Fume (Smoking Truck), inspired by the thriving food truck scene in her native Los Angeles.
“I knew I wanted to do a food truck, but I had never cooked a burger in a professional setting,” she said. “And at the time, there was no restaurant specialized in gourmet burgers in Paris.”
At the time, municipal laws restricted such food trucks to special events, such as concerts, fairs, street markets and privately owned spaces. That made truck owners rely on social media and food bloggers to advertise their next stop to the growing crowd of curious Parisian street-food fans.
Despite strict regulations that effectively deterred any competition for sit-down restaurants and the snobbery toward street food, Frederick found long lines of people waiting patiently whenever she could open for business in central Paris.
“At first I thought maybe I would sell 30 or 40 burgers a day, but it just exploded. It was insane,” she recalled. “We got a reputation for waiting for hours for a burger because at the time I was alone in the truck, and there were 150 people in front of me.”
The runaway success of Frederick’s truck didn’t go unnoticed. It was followed in 2012 by La Cantine California, the brainchild of San Franciscan Jordan Feilders who introduced Parisians to tacos and enchiladas, and later by a wave of young French entrepreneurs.
“When I saw the first food trucks in Paris I said, it’s time to do it,” said Cyril Dedieu, 33, owner of Bügelski, a food truck inspired by the delicatessens he had visited in New York and Montreal.
Dedieu’s first customers in Courbevoie, a suburb northeast of Paris, didn’t quite understand pastrami at first. Most had never heard of it, so everyone opted for chicken on a bagel.
“One day, I pretended we had run out of chicken because of a supply problem,” he recalled. “Some regular customers ended up trying the pastrami and liked it so much they have kept ordering it.”
Several other food trucks have appeared since, selling such artisanal street food as mozzarella salads, pulled pork sandwiches, fish and chips, Vietnamese bánh mì and Venezuelan arepas.
Food trucks were not unheard of in France — pizza trucks regularly ply the French Riviera, while vans serving fries are tradition of the region near the Belgian border. But until July, they could make only fleeting appearances in the capital.
Now, half of Paris’ 20 arrondissements have provided spaces for food trucks. Authorities said they will review the plan within a year.
The outer districts of Paris, where options for lunchtime eating are often scarcer than in the capital, were the first to catch on to the street-food craze and allowed spaces for food trucks to cater to office workers as a complement to sit-down restaurants.
The business district of La Défense, just outside central Paris, is a case in point.
“There’s a café where I go often, but I know it’s always there. Here you get the chance to try something different,” said office worker Marcela Lopez, 29, while waiting among dozens of customers in line at Aji Dulce, a truck that specializes in Venezuelan street food. “The other day there was a Thai food truck. This is something so open-minded and innovative.”