In the last decade, Americans have been outdone by the French in weight loss, relationships, style, and child-rearing. Now, the one thing that Americans seemed to do better than the French (and most countries), may be slipping to second-best.
Fast food, once shunned by the French, is now being embraced by many in the haute cuisine country. According to a 2011 study, fast food expenditures have surpassed traditional restaurants for the first time, making up 54 percent of receipts.
Some say this trend of cheaper and faster eats is due to the downturn, followed by an even slower upturn, in the economy. Eating fast food is no doubt a way to save money but it is not a trend enjoyed only by broke Parisian university students. On any given day, business professionals in the City of Lights can be found standing in long lines for this quickie meal, which can be consumed in a matter of minutes, instead of the typical 2-3 hour French lunches of the past (can you say increased productivity, oui oui!).
Despite it’s longtime, poor reputation in France, fast food has also captured the attention of chefs around the country, many of which are trying to capitalize on this new trend and even give it its own French flair. In fact, the new French fast food is far from the mass-produced, lower quality items expected from McDonald’s and Taco Bell. Instead, French chefs, who traditionally have lofty culinary standards, are making their fast food mark by serving gourmet versions of comfort food, like burritos, brownies, burgers, and even British fish and chips. And, to make their distinction from American (or other) fast food, the French are using top-notch ingredients, including higher quality cuts of meat, fish, artisan breads, and more.
However, serving French, gourmet-style fast food is not without its challenges. Many ingredients of traditional American fast food are just not obtainable in France (ie. hotdogs). So French chefs resort to importing key, hard-to-find ingredients in order to ensure a fresh and authentic taste in their recipes. Furthermore, American fast food can be hard to translate into the French equivalent, ie. mistaking cheesecake for cheese steak.
Although French chefs may be reaping their fast food rewards, this good fortune may be short-lived. French lawmakers are aiming to preserve true “slow food” French cuisine by requiring restaurants to indicate whether meals are made from scratch. Although the legislation is seen as weak, it has already been approved in France’s lower house and will go to the Senate later this fall. And, if the legislation passes, there is no telling how it would impact France’s fast-food industry – for better or worse – leading Americans to breath a big sigh of relief…..for now.