Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Picard for a New Generation

It's time I talked about Picard. Not Shakespearean-trained Patrick Stewart's Captain Picard, but the greatest frozen sensation since, well, the freezer.

Picard is a retail operation throughout all of France that exclusively sells (gulp) frozen food. Yet, this stuff is so yummy, so you-can't-even-tell-it-was-frozen, that they have a word for it: surgelés, which comes from the verb for to deep freeze, but now can be defined as: “a really tasty alternative to a home cooked meal and way better than take-out.”

The concept: source high quality and diverse food and deep-freeze it to lock in the flavor, pack it up nicely, and sell it via highly accessible (through location and friendly hours) shops. To boot, Picard has a helpful and ready staff, they’ll even bag your purchases (something you're hard pressed to find in any grocery here).

It looks and feels a little retro-futuro, like what they thought the future would look like in the 1950s. You don't see any food upon entry, for they use horizontal freezers that are more energy-efficient. The freezers are typically aligned as a single path with sale items in front, then starters and mains, and as if you're in a veritable Candy Land, the desserts are at the end. True, it can get tricky if you realize you forgot that side of gratin dauphinois you wanted and are forced to retrace your steps, but you manage. A cashier is at the end with a ready smile and a "bonjour" and some plastic bags (while freezer-friendly bags are also available for a chanson).

Everything I've ever had from them is delicious - from ingredients like raspberry coulis and frozen chopped garlic, to full on chicken tikka and croquant chocolat. That have a lot of Bio (organic) options, too. Among my circle, its everyone’s dirty little secret how much Picard one consumes over homemade meals.

I’ve often thought about exporting the concept to the States, but I think there is too great a stigma against frozen foods, and it’s hard to compete with a 24 hour food cycle. But here you can see a steady stream of Parisians, including many well-heeled ones, popping into Picard to fetch that evening's meal. As a colleague of Franck's once quipped, "Parisians have a €50,000 kitchen in order to heat up Picard in the microwave."

No comments:

Post a Comment