French gourmands welcome the American burger

The French - noted for fine dining and culinary excellence - are putting a new spin on the American hamburger.
CBS News

(CBS News) Remember that old advertising slogan "Where's The Beef?" In French, that translates to "Ou est le Boeuf?" . . . a question we've posed to David Turecamo, Our Man In Paris:

Voila! The latest craze in French dining - hamburgers!

The French used to think they were an American scourge - food without flavor or finesse. But they're beginning to see that, gee, even a hamburger can be gourmet.

Ask Victor Garnier. He created Blend, a restaurant dedicated to the gourmet burger, and he did his research criss-crossing America.

"Starting in Los Angeles with a backpack, and my only goal was to eat hamburgers," Garnier said.

He'd only been open a month, and the wait for a table was 30-45 minutes.

Then there's Le Camion qui Fume, "The Smoking Truck" - the first gourmet food truck ever in Paris, where people wait an hour to an hour-and-a-half.

It's the invention of Kristen Frederick from L.A.

"I try to get the most authentic American burger possible," she said, "and the French find guilty pleasure eating with their hands."

"It wouldn't be a real hamburger if the ketchup wasn't dripping," one French woman explained.

So, what makes them gourmet?

Well, Victor worked with Yves-Marie Lebourdonnec, an artisan butcher in Paris. Together they developed what Garnier called "the perfect patty."

"A mixture of muscle - I don't want to give the exact recipe, it's a secret," said Lebourdonnec. "Some fat, to vary the texture, vary the taste."

And Kristen studied French cuisine in Paris for several years before she created the Smoking Truck.

"She thought this is what was missing in the gastronomic landscape of Paris," said Alexander Lobrano, a widely-published food critic with a blog called Hungry for Paris.

"And in this district which is a very expensive part of Paris, you come here and for ten euros you can get a burger, fries and a dessert."

A little history: McDonalds arrived in the '70s, and today, outside of the United States, France is the biggest market for McDonalds in the world - even though, to some French, that's not always a happy meal. In 1999 a farmer named Jose Bove drove a tractor through a McDonalds under construction.

"For us, McDonalds is industrialized food," Bove said.

Okay. But 10 years ago at his restaurant in New York, Daniel Boulud - one of the most celebrated French chefs in the world - decided to prove that a burger could be more than beef patties on a bun.

"I wanted my burger to be a cross between what French cuisine represents and what American cuisine represent as well," Boulud said. "And I put inside a disc of short ribs [that] had been braised for eight to ten hours slowly in red wine, truffles, foie gras, and we wrap the ground meat around."

And this is how the gourmet burger was born.

And the truck?

"The power steering went out," Kristen recalled. "So we tweeted that we'd be starting deliveries, and got it up on our website and Facebook," and got her crew together with scooters and motorbikes.

"I think maybe American gastronomy is one of the most successful quiet parts of American diplomacy," Lobrano said. "People like American food in France!"

For more info: