Like many people, I have become a huge fan of Picard. Picard, the "surgelé king" of France, where you can get deep-frozen comestibles, from foie gras to haricots verts to ... well, you name it, just about everything except lettuce for your midday or evening meal. If Picard gave frequent buyer rewards, I'd be one rich lady.
But I have to admit that I was too intimidated to enter Picard for the first six months that I lived in Paris. I didn't grasp what it was when I passed by, assuming that it was a laboratory or maybe an appliance store. I had no idea that it held in its deep frozen storage lockers the secrets to easy, tasty dinners for one, two, or even 16. From the sidewalk, it has a fluorescent, chemistry-lab look that, as a newbie in Paris, I didn't associate with yummy microwaveable gourmet dining. It was simply a clean, well-lighted place.
I have no fear of frozen food -- heck, I was raised on it -- but in recent years in the US, I associated quality frozen food with the folksy, organic charm of Trader Joe's: employees in Hawaiian-print shirts, jovial atmosphere, wood paneling. And a great produce section as well.
Having passed by many Picard storefronts since my arrival here, I was flabbergasted to learn, eventually, that Picard was the secret source of many a good dinner party in Paris. Sssh. Don't tell. Most hostesses, unless they are really close friends, won't tell you that dinner came from Picard. Many friends say that their purist spouses will not allow Picard in the house. But they sneak Picard int o the kitchen from time to time, and hide the emptied boxes deep in the recycle bin.
But the thought that I've been ruminating about for some time is: why, in a country where enticing store displays are otherwise de rigueur, does Picard have such an austere, almost sterile look? The best I can figure out -- and I'd love feedback on this -- is that French tradition has for a long time distrusted frozen food. Certainly, there is nothing that can compare to the fresh produce, meats, cheese, and fish at the outdoor marchés. It whets the appetite just to stroll down the stalls at any of the open-air markets anywhere in France.
So perhaps Picard, from what I can see, has taken the marketing angle of emphasizing what they do best -- FREEZING. The notion of respecting the maintenance of sub-zero temperatures (respecter la chaine du froid) is the mantra of Picard. They sell insulated bags to make sure the products arrive home properly frozen.
I always feel that I'm being a lazybones, cheating in a way, in my all-too-quick-n'easy dinners. Ah, but I can justify my way out of a paper bag (or an insulated one). I tell myself that if I were really cheating, I'd use their handy home delivery service.