As a graduate of Ecole Ferrandi, France’s best state culinary school, Kristin Frederick could have got a job at any Michelin-starred restaurant. Instead this young Californian opened the first burger truck in Paris, instantly becoming a star chef in her own right. Since it appeared in Place de la Madeleine earlier this year, Le Camion qui Fume has not only changed the way Parisians think about “le burger”, it has also paved the way for a new generation of food entrepreneurs.
Frederick knew that she wanted to open a gourmet food truck before she settled on the idea of hamburgers. “There were burgers on the menu of nearly every brasserie in Paris, and I noticed that if it was a good or a decent one, everyone would order it. With my culinary background I knew that I could recreate the burger I grew up with.”
What was missing from most French burgers, she determined, was fat. “The ground beef sold in most butcher shops is perfect for steak tartare, but too lean for burgers. The more economical ground beef has more fat but is made with the least desirable cuts, so it lacks flavour.” The only solution, then, was to grind her own, using cuts she had selected herself.
The same thoughtfulness went into every other element of the burger. After several French bakeries refused to prepare the buns, saying the initial volume of 400 a week was too high, Frederick turned to a trade bakery, run by Americans “because they always say yes”. She has been tweaking the recipe ever since, aiming for a slightly eggy bun that is not too dense for the delicate texture of the meat. The fries are hand-cut and cooked to order, a perfectionist approach that leads to a wait of more than an hour most days.
Her burgers might not be for the impatient, but the friendly banter in the queue – an unusual phenomenon in Paris – helps people forget how long they have been standing. “I sometimes ask people if they would like us to do more of the preparation in advance to shorten the wait,” says Frederick. “The answer is always, no, don’t change anything.” Each day she sells around 160 burgers and turns away 50 to 100 would-be customers.
Perfecting her recipes was easy compared with tackling the French administration. After a fairly smooth start, Frederick ran into problems when her truck met with instant success. “It caught the administration off guard. They received 150 applications from people wanting to open food trucks.”
In February, the truck was shut down for three weeks for administrative reasons. “They would only say there was something wrong with the file,” says Frederick. “It was frustrating, but I never imagined that one food truck would lead to the rewriting of the legislation. The city has decided to evolve with the food trend and soon there will be a lot more trucks, even if they don’t want it to become too big or uncontrolled.”
Since the opening of Le Camion qui Fume, gourmet burgers have taken off in Paris, pushing aside the croque-monsieur once and for all. One of the most successful spots is Big Fernand, run by a trio of Frenchmen who play up their Gallic charm with curly moustaches, chequered shirts and jaunty caps. If the narrow room with an open kitchen in the front and a few bare wooden tables at the back feels like a slice of New York, thanks to the high-speed service and the friendly vibe, the burgers rely on distinctly French ingredients.
The entrepreneur behind this venture is Steve Burggraf, who talks as fast as he flips burgers. He ran a quality fast-food chain called Les Compagnons du Terroir before going into business with Guillaume Pagliano and Alexandre Auriac.
Their efficient system, with three cooks at the grill, means there is rarely more than a five-minute wait for a burger; Burggraf says that they sell about 250 a day.
Like Frederick, they put a great deal of effort into perfecting their burgers. Customers can choose from four meats – beef, lamb, veal and chicken – four sauces, and five typically French cheeses, plus grilled vegetables and herbs. By far the most popular is the Charolais beef, which is usually paired with tomme de Savoie; I also tried a juicy, pink lamb burger with goat’s cheese, grilled pepper and coriander. The meat is trimmed and ground on the spot and the buns, produced by a local bakery, have a light yet firm texture. Batch after batch of hand-cut fries emerge from the bubbling oil.
Though he has travelled a lot, Burggraf says he has never eaten a burger in New York or London. “The inspiration was purely personal. The idea of revisiting the hamburger is not that old in Paris and it started with chefs like Alain Ducasse.”
He plans to expand Big Fernand, with a branch already planned near Paris’s stock exchange for later this year, before franchising his business overseas, perhaps even in New York. Who knows, the French may have something to teach Americans about hamburgers.
Where to find a great burger in Paris:
Le Camion qui Fume
for location check
+33 (0)1 84 16 33 75
55 rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, 9th
+33 (0)1 47 70 54 72
44 rue d’Argout, 2nd
+33 (0)1 40 26 84 57
9 rue Jaucourt, 12th
+33 (0)1 44 73 98 18
12 rue de Trevise, 9th
+33 (0)1 47 70 21 03
The rise of “les rosbifs”
Tim Wilson, a Yorkshire farmer who raises rare breeds on the edge of the North York Moors, has made a name for himself with his superb meat, sold in The Ginger Pig butcher’s shops in London. Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec is Paris’s celebrity butcher who has made himself famous (if not exactly popular) in France by claiming loudly and often that les rosbifs (aka the British) are far better than the French at beef, writes Sue Style.
It was somehow inevitable that one day the two would meet. When Wilson’s beef was honoured in 2010 with a Coq d’Or, a French award reserved for top-quality food products, Le Bourdonnec contacted him to propose a meeting. Together with a delegation of French butchers, he set off for Yorkshire on the trail of the formidable beef.
They visited the farm, observed the Longhorn cattle grazing the lush North Yorkshire meadows, stayed overnight at the local pub and feasted on Wilson’s prime beef, richly marbled with fat and bursting with flavour. “In my opinion, the British raise the best beef in the world,” remarks Le Bourdonnec, adding: “en France on est plutôt mauvais” (in France we’re rather bad at it).
Late last year, when Le Bourdonnec was invited to join forces with the group behind the Experimental Cocktail Club to open Paris’s first US-style steakhouse, he readily agreed – on condition that all the meat would be sourced from Wilson’s farm. The Beef Club opened in February in Les Halles, Paris’s former central market district, with Ginger Pig beef on the menu.
Every Monday, Wilson loads up his van with around 500kg of meat and drives over to Paris to deliver it. Early Tuesday morning he’s at Rungis, where he stocks up on veal for the London stores (“the French do veal better than we do”) and then drives back home again.
Appetite for the famous Yorkshire beef shows little sign of slowing. Paris now has its own Ginger Pig Beef Clubs, and Wilson has also received requests from chefs and butchers in Belgium. “There’s a market out there for people looking for quality – and they’re prepared to pay the price.”
58 rue Jean-Jacques-Rousseau, 1st
+33 (0)9 54 37 13 65