Food trucks have become all the rage now with Parisians finally discovering the joys of gourmet food outside of the confines of high end bistros and Michelin starred restaurants. The first truck, Le Camion Qui Fume (which translates to the “Truck Who Smokes”), opened in November 2011 serving up gourmet burgers to immediate and unparalleled success. The second, Cantine California, hit the streets at the end of March 2012 offering up some of my favorite standbys: tacos, burgers, brunch, and cupcakes. Besides a different menu, Cantine California also uses organic quality ingredients. Both have regular spots they park at and long waiting times — often an hour or so – proof that Parisians are shedding their image as haute cuisine snobs and enthusiastically embracing the casualness of street food.
The food truck concept, however, is not entirely new to France. In the suburbs of Paris and other parts of the country, many grew up with “les camions” which sold pizza. (Think of the Mister Softee trucks in the US.) Though the food was often solid, no one ever thought to put a gourmet spin on the idea until now. Both chefs for Le Camion Qui Fume and Cantine California trained at the prestigious Ferrandi cooking school in Paris and both trucks are headed by Americans, where gourmet street food is part of the culinary fabric.
It’s only in France where the trend towards casual, less stuffy dining has been a slow and steady evolution that started roughly twelve years ago. That’s when Le Fooding was born. Le Fooding, a term coined by its founders to join “food” and “feeling” is mostly known for its restaurant guide and food festivals, but eventually grew into a cultural movement. (Similar to Slow Food and other trends that have changed our approach to eating.) Le Fooding challenged the traditionally conservative French food culture with its youthful enthusiasm, throwing mass picnics with three star Michelin chefs. This break from what used to define France — the temple of high end dining – has now created a more open and casual yet serious approach to food. Perfect timing for the food trucks.
The future of food trucks in Paris still remains a question. Due to the city receiving hundreds of applications after the success of Le Camion Qui Fume, they are still determining how to regulate the types of cuisine they will allow as well as the number of trucks they want to flood Paris’ streets. Either way, I know where I can get a good burger now.
Dine by Design is a new column on both Untapped Paris and New York which explores food through the lens of product, interior, and restaurant design. It will give readers a behind the scene look not merely at how food is prepared, but at how it is presented. In Paris, Diane Ruengsorn knows this topic intimately as the founder and director of Domestic Aesthetic, a design firm with close links to the restaurant industry, and from her eight years working for food magazines such as Gourmet and Saveur.
Chefs and designers are a natural pairing here in France, where I recently moved. I was drawn to how food and design were so intrinsically linked and after years of working in both fields, often simultaneously, France made sense to me. I loved how in a country so celebrated for its cuisine, food was another vehicle for artistic and visual expression. Thought goes into not only the presentation, but the experience of eating as a whole.
Take for example the Paris des Chefs conference in January which paired internationally renowned chefs with a designer or artist. Over three days, the showcase explored the bridges between “the art of cooking and the different fields of creation.” Bertrand Grébaut of the much hyped restaurant Septime (a graphic design student turned chef) discussed the influence of design on his work with his creative director, the designer and video director Thomas Jumin. Or one of my favorite sessions where the Spanish chef Josean Alija used the individual and dried leaves of leeks to create something similar to papyrus. The result was an edible page that could be decorated and painted on.
Such explorations are well appreciated in France, even in its educational system. The École Supérieure d’Art et de Design de Reims has a nearly ten year old program devoted to food design which “questions eating habits” and focuses on food’s relationship to society.
The program’s founder, Marc Bretillot, along with collaborators Jean-Charles Amey and Earlwyn Covington also created the recently launched multimedia platform called Thinking Food Design. Through invitations sent out to chefs, designers, and anyone interested in the topic, participants document their definitions in two minute videos that answer the simple question: “What is Food Design?” Videos are grouped by categories such as “emotion,” “performance,” or “innovation.”