It’s not that Paris had never seen a hamburger before 2011, when the L.A. native Kristin Frederick launched central Paris’s first gourmet first food truck, Le Camion qui Fume. It’s just that burgers in the city then were found in small troughs of expat nostalgia, like Joe Allen, where Americans in Paris celebrate Presidential inaugurations every four years. Or Ferdi, which caters to an international fashion crowd.
The big difference when Frederick, the former Apicius stagière, set up shop was that the locals got on board. And this has been the case with every American-style concept restaurant Frederick has opened since. Her obsession with authenticity appeals to a young, outward-looking crowd that had previously only fed on vicarious Instagram feeds. When she came along there was still a void in Paris of high-quality, cool convenience eating. Not anymore.
Unlike the big, sloppy restaurant burgers of yesteryear, Le Camion’s burger stand-style sandwiches—caramelized meat with just a hint of gristle for body, a grilled bun, iceberg lettuce, mayo and extra pickles—are edible in paper wrap. Hour-long lines formed immediately for something so portable but filling, so unlike the thin baguette sandwiches or sad pasta salads from Cojean that previously reigned supreme.
Burger chains with similar values, like Blend and Big Fernand, swiftly opened and became phenomena. As did upscale trucks like Cantine California and Le Camion Gourmand. It’s funny that Frederick is not always given credit in ample media coverage for launching the movement that’s ensued.
With double-meat-and-cheese-sized ambitions, our heroine did not stay put. In 2013 she opened Freddie’s Deli, the source of the city’s only really authentic reuben sandwich, in a quiet corner of the 11th arrondissement. (We like Gregory Marchand’s interpretation at Frenchie to Go, but Frederick’s is the reuben of record.) A gourmet popcorn bar—the sort of thing that hit big in upscale malls across America in the 1980s—launched in the Aeroville movie theater the same year, with flavors like salted caramel, truffle, and rosemary-parmesan. (It’s coming soon to the MK2 cinema in the 13th.)
This March, Frederick opened Huabu on the rue Faubourg Poissonnière, a neighborhood that, in the last five years, has become a lab for fast lunch concepts like pizza al taglio, dumplings and meatballs. Her sino-yankee classics, like beef with broccoli, kung pao and General Tso’s chicken, made-to-order with quality produce, reel in office lunchers by day and expats at night. This summer also saw Le Camion supply burgers to the Publicis Drugstore, which will continue into the fall.
Now, she’s ready to tackle the waterways. As of this Friday, September 4, we’ll have Le Bateau qui Fume, a peniche with the same burgers-and-fries as the truck, as well as beer, wine, and champagne minis. (Parked on the Seine, the boat will change position once per shift, though it won’t set sail during meals.)
“This has been two-and-a-half years of permits and authorizations in the making,” she said from her mobile on a much-needed weekend break to Biarritz. “It was incredibly complicated to set up, though the Seine river authority is really glad to have it.”
Finally, her eyes are starting to shrink down to the same size as her stomach. “I went a little crazy with new ideas for a couple of years,” Frederick said. “But I’ve kind of calmed down.” Not so much, though, that a two-story brick-and-mortar Camion outpost won’t also be opening later in the year.
“A journalist once asked me if I thought all these burger places would survive,” Frederick recalled. “To me, it’s just proof that burgers fundamentally work. You can have one on every street. I’m not worried.”
Alexandra Marshall is a contributing editor and the Paris correspondent at Travel & Leisure. Food, design, architecture and fashion are her specialties, which means, living in Paris, that she is very busy. Follow her on Twitter and on Instagram.