Jan. 16 (Bloomberg) -- McDonald’s Corp. has put a baguette sandwich on its menu in France in an attempt to appeal to local tastes, and it has won the approval of a veteran French chef.
“I’m lovin’ it,” Pierre Koffmann said after tasting for Bloomberg Television at a McDonald’s on Rue de Rivoli, in Paris. “If I was hungry walking by, I’d buy it with pleasure.”
“The garnish is good: There’s plenty of salad and plenty of everything. The bread isn’t a pure baguette because this one is shorter, but it’s good bread. Not the top bread in Paris but it’s good. I’m not disappointed by it,” said Koffmann, who held three Michelin stars at La Tante Claire in London in the 1990s.
McDonald’s effort to cater to the local palate coincides with a French economic slump and a 13-year-high unemployment rate that’s driving more of the country’s citizens to throw their culinary pride to the wind and embrace fastfood offerings. France is Oak Brook, Illinois-based McDonald’s most profitable market after the U.S., with 1,228 outlets in 934 towns, 4.2 billion euros ($5.6 billion) in 2011 sales and 66,000 employees.
“We are looking for a balance between our DNA, our roots, and points of local reference,” Nawfal Trabelsi, chief marketing officer of McDonald’s France, said in an interview. “Local reference is a path that has to follow certain steps.”
The McBaguette features ham, cheese and potato, topped with lettuce and mayonnaise. It costs 4.50 euros with a drink. (There are also chicken & pepper and spicy-beef options.) It appears on a new “Casse-Croute” menu after being tested last year. Casse-croute is the French expression for grabbing a lunch sandwich.
Koffmann preferred it to a baguette from a local baker.
“I’ll go with McDonald’s,” Koffmann said. “The garnish is better. This other one was probably made this morning at 6. It looks better, with good-quality bread, but McDonald’s has a lot more garnish. The McDonald’s is warm. Bread is always better warm. It’s a trick, but McDonald’s is doing the trick.”
Not everyone is a fan of the McBaguette. Lionel Picot, a baker at Boulangerie Julien -- which has won the “Meilleure Baguette de Paris,” or the “best baguette in Paris,” award -- says McDonald’s is misusing traditional French fare.
“A baguette is long: It’s not this,” he said in an interview. “It should be forbidden. It’s unbearable that they were allowed to use the word baguette. It’s not real baguettes they use, so using the word is terrible.”
Picot joins those who in the past have complained about the growing reach of McDonald’s in France. Jose Bove -- an activist farmer who ran for president in 2007 -- famously accused McDonald’s of serving up “malbouffe,” or junk food.
Picot, whose bakery sells baguettes said McDonald’s shouldn’t be allowed to co-opt the term baguette.
“We try to keep the artisanal side and these people use everything without asking anyone,” he said. “They would probably sue us for a small thing if we used something from them, but we let them do whatever they want here. It’s not normal.”
McDonald’s sees it as an attempt to go local.
“People come to McDonald’s mainly for the slice of America they can get out of it and as you grow in a country, you are expected by people to start proposing proof points of local relevance,” said Trabelsi. “We’ve been on this journey now for 10 years, by changing the decor, by extending or adapting the offerings, and the baguette comes as a symbol of French culture at the right time.”
Koffmann, 64, agrees.
“If I come to McDonald’s, I know what I will get,” he said. “I will have it today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, I’ll have the same. If you go to a fantastic baker, it will be my first choice, of course, but there are a lot of rubbish bakers, too.”
Koffmann was born in Tarbes, southwest France, and traveled to England in 1970 to watch France play rugby. He never returned, cooking at Le Gavroche before becoming head chef in 1972 at the Waterside Inn, which holds three Michelin stars. He won three stars of his own at La Tante Claire in London. He now cooks at Koffmann’s at the Berkeley Hotel in London.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Scott Reyburn on the art market and Ryan Sutton on New York restaurants.