PARIS – Le Camion Qui Fume – literally, "the smoking truck" – launched services in Paris on November 29th headed by L.A. expat Kristin Frederick. The mobile street food movement in American cities has never become popular in France, a country with cuisine classified as a world heritage by UNESCO. Parisians don’t often indulge in street food, but Le Camion Qui Fume could soon change that.
While technically not the first food truck in France, it is the first truck in Paris to move from location to location, like its famed counterparts in the US. Other trucks serving sausage sandwiches or crepes obtain parking permits for one fixed location, preventing any thrill of stumbling upon them or following their whereabouts on Twitter. Le Camion Qui Fume is bringing the American model to Paris by way of the hamburger, a cultural challenge that Frederick has tackled head on.
"It’s been a struggle since day one," she said.
Between dealing with French bureaucracy and introducing a foreign concept directly in Paris’s famed streets and squares, Frederick has had a few setbacks. "I heard ten times ‘it’s not possible’ before we made any headway," she said.
After sorting out paperwork, permits, and insurance issues, Frederick finally launched Le Camion Qui Fume on November 29th drawing much attention, including the police who came not once, but twice out of curiosity, asking to see Frederick’s paperwork to ensure that everything was legal. "They’re working with us but this could happen all the time," she said, "but we have a million different permits and insurances and we did everything legally."
Difficulties aside, the response to the truck has been positive. Frederick, a graduate of l’Ecole Supérieure de Cuisine Française Ferrandi and former chef at Michelin-starred restaurant Spago in L.A., has credentials to hang on the wall. She came back to Paris to manage a local restaurant, but facing long weeks and enormous responsibilities, she soon set out to open her own kitchen. "I said if I can do this, I can do something on my own," she said.
A California native, she said she was always surrounded by food trucks, especially at construction sites where here father worked. But why the hamburger?
Frederick said that she conceived the burger concept to fill the void in a city where no authentic burgers exist. "Even the French were waiting for a real American burger," she said.
Le Camion Qui Fume offers delicacies like its onion-ring and bacon-topped Barbecue burger or the Bleu, decked out with blue cheese, caramelized onions, and Porto sauce that are creating a stir.
Frenchman Joffrey Guermonprez tested the burgers with his American girlfriend. "French people like burgers and the burgers in the truck are better than most of the burgers in the brasseries," he said.
Philadelphia-native Phyllis Flick found the address on the truck's website and thought the burger was much better than the average ones you find in Paris. "Burgers are a huge fad here, they’re on every menu, but are usually pretty mediocre." she said.
With lunch and dinner services nearly every day, Frederick is confident in La Camion Qui Fume’s success, despite the constant hurdles for parking permits and licenses. The current truck is just a prototype to test during the beginning, but Frederick already hopes to have a second truck by the summer. “In my business plan, I had no idea what to expect,” she said, but serving around 40 customers at each lunch and more than 70 at dinner has far surpassed her expectations so early in the game.
"When summer hits it’s going to be out of control," she said.
Photo: Bryan Pirolli