Breaking News

An immigrant hopes to find his American dream with French tacos.

Los Angeles has carne asada tacos and chicken neck tacos and potato tacos and bootleg Choco Tacos. Tacos made with corn or flour tortillas, or with lettuce, or with cheese fried into a hard, greasy shell. Tacos sold from food carts, taco trucks, mom-and-pop places and high-end restaurants. Korean tacos from Kogi, Navajo tacos at powwows, breakfast tacos from HomeState and taquitos bobbing in avocado salsa at Cielito Lindo on Olvera Street.

But only 26-year-old Guillaume Condé, owner of the French Way in Westwood, sells the most controversial taco there is: the French taco.

A frat house of ingredients — a typical version includes shawarma, chicken fingers, bacon, French fries, Emmental cheese and barbecue sauce — gets placed inside a flour tortilla that’s folded up and smushed on a panini press. The final product is as squat and dense as a throw pillow and looks like a marriage between a Chipotle burrito and a Panera Bread sandwich.

You’re then supposed to dunk it in a galaxy of sauces from ketchup to mustard to Buffalo, ranch and garlic — and, sometimes, all of them mixed together.

Gloved hands prepare a French taco

Owner Guillaume Condé adds French fries to a French taco at the French Way.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Moroccan and Algerian immigrants first sold French tacos in France in the early 2000s, although no one can agree on what city they originated in or how they got their name. What is indisputable is their popularity: They are served at chains with hundreds of locations across the Francophone world. They have become a mainstay of street food in France’s big cities thanks to young people, who post their feasts on social media and praise them in song.

Unsurprisingly, both Mexican and French traditionalists consider French tacos to be an abomination.

“I find a lack of respect for our traditions,” an owner of a Mexican restaurant in Paris told the New Yorker in 2021, in an article that went viral. “It should appall the French, too.”

For Condé, French tacos are his ticket to the American dream.

“French food is very liked in the USA,” the former decathlete explained while we waited for the lunch rush at his sliver of an eatery next to a Papa Johns. He’s tall, eager to please and overly apologetic for his perfectly fine English. “French tacos, you can make it to what you want. It’s customization. Americans like that.”

But … French tacos? In a city where everyone already has their favorite taco spot, and the trend for fusion tacos long ago ended in favor of birria anything?

“In L.A.,” Condé countered with a smile, “it’s normal to try a new concept.”

He grew up in Aurons, a tiny town about 40 minutes northwest of Marseille, and remembers when a French taco restaurant opened in a nearby town when he was 18 — “It was the talk of our high school.”

By then, Condé was already thinking of moving to the United States, thanks to frequent vacations — Florida, New York, Chicago, even Route 66 — that endeared this country and our “mentality,” which he described as “kindness and altruism,” to him.

Los Angeles called to him the most.

“L.A. is like France,” he said while his wife, Esther, carried napkins into a back room. “You can go to the ocean or ski in the mountains. It’s very diverse. … This everything-is-possible mentality also makes me want to live here. The ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality makes perfect sense here.”

Condé apprenticed for three years under his father, who runs a catering business, before receiving a visa last year that allowed him to open his eatery in the U.S. He wasn’t afraid that the biggest chain from France, O’Tacos, had tried and failed to establish a location in Brooklyn.

A woman works behind a register while two other women order food

The French Way co-owner Esther Condé takes an order from UCLA student Yanla Ndjip-Nyemeck, left, and her mother, Ginette Ikoba, who was visiting from Belgium.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Before opening the French Way in August, Condé did an internet search for competitors in Southern California. There were none, but he found thousands of locations that sold Mexican tacos, with which he was barely familiar.

“We don’t have tacos like this in France,” he said. “We have burritos, we have fajitas, but no tacos like that. So for me to say here that ‘tacos’ is French is wrong. Here in L.A., the culture of tacos is Mexican.”

He decided to rebrand French tacos as FrenchFolds.

Business has been good so far, evenly split between French nationals looking for a taste of home — for whom most food doesn’t measure up to their standards — and Americans curious to try something new.

“Every French person tells me they’re very surprised at the flavor,” Condé said. “Everything in the United States is not too good for the French.”

On Condé’s recommendation, I ordered the medium-sized Paris FrenchFold: one pound of chicken nuggets, bacon and French fries fused together with mozzarella and slathered in barbecue sauce and a cheesy sauce that reminded me of béchamel. “It’s the secret ingredient,” Condé laughed as he shaped my order, bending the end flaps of the tortilla instead of tucking them in like one would with a burrito.

I went with three sauces: a salsa that turned out to be Tapatío hot sauce, a sweet-and-sour Thai sauce and sauce Algérienne, a slightly spiced mayo that’s the most famous condiment in the French tacos world. My meal was objectively good — like a tangier, denser breakfast burrito. I can see Bruins flocking here after midnight on weekends, when the French Way is one of the few restaurants open in the area.

What I truly loved about Condé’s French tacos, however, was their symbolism. Only in Los Angeles can an immigrant try to make his mark on the city with a foodstuff created by immigrants to his native country, realize that immigrants in his new country already make the original version, and adjust accordingly. His French tacos leap past culinary borders like immigrants scaling a 30-foot wall with a 31-foot ladder.

The first customers of the afternoon finally arrived. Josh and Stacy, who declined to give their last names, had just visited the Getty.

“This place came up in a Google search of nearby restaurants,” said Josh. “We wanted to get ramen in downtown L.A., but at this point, we’re pretty hungry.”

Guillaume Condé holds his signature French tacos, which he calls FrenchFolds.
Guillaume Condé shows off his signature French tacos, which he calls FrenchFolds.

Guillaume Condé shows off his signature French tacos, which he calls FrenchFolds. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

I asked if they had heard of French tacos. Neither had.

“Oh, that’s an interesting concept,” said Stacy. “Sounds like fusion.”

Condé made their orders, then returned to talk with me. I asked what he thought of Mexican tacos.

“Very good” — but go easy on the spice, he replied.

He especially likes Tacos 1986, which started five years ago as a stand in a Hollywood parking lot and now has six locations across Los Angeles. “It’s cheap, fast, and the menu is simple. I want to be like them.”

Suddenly, Josh interrupted us. “We loved them,” he told Condé. “It was great. So much flavor! We’ll be back.”

A few minutes later, Yanla Ndjip-Nyemeck and her mother, Ginette Ikoba, were chatting at the register with Esther in French. Ndjip-Nyemeck is a Belgian native and UCLA senior who has patronized the French Way almost since its debut.

“It’s very nice to see this here in the United States,” Ikoba said.

Guillaume Conde and his wife Esther are owners of the The French Way

Guillaume Condé and his wife, Esther, work in the kitchen of their Westwood restaurant.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“It feels like home, and it tastes like home,” added her daughter. A French pop version of the Four Seasons classic “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” softly played. “I usually make the craziest mixes, and it always comes out good. ”

Ndjip-Nyemeck said she has brought roommates to the French Way, but “had to explain to them what they [French tacos] were. All of them loved it.”

As the duo enjoyed their lunch, Esther finally sat near her husband. The 27-year-old is France’s reigning heptathlon champion and competes for the track-and-field team at Azusa Pacific University. She and Guillaume have been married about a year and a half.

“It’s not an easy project to come to a new country and learn a new language, with a new concept,” Esther said. She works at the French Way only if her husband really needs the help. He commutes every day from Azusa because “it’s better for her to be close to home and school than me to my work.”

“I can’t have her working here too much,” Guillaume said. “She can’t get injured. I can!”

Esther looked at him with kind eyes. “It’s not easy,” she said, “but we’ll be OK.”

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button