Frozen food-only retail shops have long been popular on the east side of the Atlantic Ocean. The Picard Surgelés chain rates highly among the French, while Belgians are cool with shopping at O’Cool, and Iceland has been a hot spot for frozen food buyers in Britain for generations. On the other side of the water, however, consumers have been all but deprived of shops dedicated exclusively to selling high quality frozen fare. Until now.
Elisabeth de Kergorlay, an investor in Le Pain Quotidien, and Jason Bauer, the founder of Crumbs Bake Shop, have opened what is billed as “the first high-quality frozen food retail store in the US” on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Doing business as Babeth’s Feast on 1422 Third Avenue in New York City, its wide line of products ranges from Belgian waffles and mini spinach and goat cheese quiches to smoked salmon and lobster bisque, mixed vegetable bundles, lobster risotto on the half shell and beef bourguignon, to raspberry lemon mousse and caramel sea salt gelato.
The idea for Babeth’s, perhaps not surprisingly, came from La Belle France.
“I discovered frozen food in France in my late 20’s,” said Ms. de Kergorlay. “Although French people are notoriously picky about food, shopping daily at specialty shops and markets for ingredients, I noticed habits beginning to shift and that an additional stop was being made to another type of specialty shop: the frozen food store.
“I had just moved to Paris, and wanted to entertain my friends at home. With an interest in food but having a busy work day, I had no time to consider preparing a full meal in the evening. Instead, I invited my friends over for drinks and began buying frozen hors d’oeuvres by the dozen to complement them. All I had to do was either let them thaw in the refrigerator, or heat them in the oven for a few minutes before serving them. At last I could enjoy the food as well as the company of my guests.
“On weekends, I could experiment much more freely. Each Sunday I would shop for a more elaborate assortment of products, from an amazing variety of frozen pastries, appetizers, soups, quiches, meats, pasta, desserts etc … With these at hand I was able to serve an impressive brunch buffet-style. Additionally, I was able to add a personal touch each time, and my guests never guessed the origin of my creativity; this was my best kept secret. Amusingly, my friends came to call our generous Sunday meal ‘Babeth’s Feast.’
“Upon moving to New York I was unable to find a store providing the quality and variety of frozen food that would allow me to easily and spontaneously entertain friends and family at home. I did not want to be limited to calling a caterer or ordering in. Hence, after carefully sourcing excellent products, and development of my own recipes, I decided to launch Babeth’s Feast in my new home town.”
Babeth’s Feast SKUs feature traditional French recipes already known in the United States, as well as others which are re-interpreted in a more American way. The shop’s assortment runs the gamut from breakfast items and pastries to appetizers, elaborate hors d’oeuvres, vegetables, fruits, sauces and spreads, main courses, desserts and ice creams.
Ms. de Kergorlay, a champion of the many merits of frozen foods, points out that the ingredients making up all products sold at Babeth’s Feast are “fresher than fresh and with more nutritional value – ‘fast’ food that is good for you and is ready well before your local delivery man can make it to your door. A sit-down dinner every night, even when mom’s been too busy to cook. Chef recipes without the restaurant price tag and little mouthfuls of luxury even for those who can’t boil a pot of water – are all possible thanks to frozen food.”
From nutrition and convenience to conviviality, efficiency and indulgence, she spelled the many advantages of Babeth’s Feast offerings as follows:
Produce is harvested, picked and frozen, or picked, prepared and frozen in a very short amount of time. Once flash frozen, these foods – fruits, vegetables, meats, condiments, prepared dishes and more – retain their nutritive capacity until the moment that they are consumed. This means more nutritional value, more minerals, more healthy goodness in every bite. Recent studies show that while on average, Americans consume more than enough daily calories, many are in fact malnourished due to their nutrient-low diet. Eating food with higher levels of nutrients is also an important key to losing weight, maintaining a healthy weight and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.
The magic of frozen food is that it provides as much convenience as the meals that are famously bad for you, while giving you as much pleasure as a meal freshly made from healthy ingredients would. Most frozen dishes will be ready to enjoy in minutes, and only require as much skill as opening a package, turning on an oven or – even simpler– popping a tray into the microwave. Frozen food products do not risk quick expiration, making them very stockable for the convenience of those who don’t have time to shop for groceries on a regular basis.
What if the key to health, weight control, good relationships and happy families was as simple as sharing meals? Well, it just might be. Sit-down meals provide ‘down-time’ for conversation, laughs or vents, and general unwinding in good company. All of these are a necessary outlet from the fast-paced, stressful lives that we lead. The long-term benefits have been recorded in children. Studies show that children who eat at the family table have better nutrition habits and seem better behaved. Frozen food permits even the busiest party-makers to entertain a hoard of hungry friends and relatives while enjoying themselves with their guests.
Frozen food, to put it simply, is the cheapest and least wasteful way to eat tasty, healthy food without making it yourself. The alternatives (catering, restaurants) are either costly or unhealthy (processed food, takeout). In terms of value for money, you can’t beat frozen. And since it stays fresh in your freezer for so long, you’re never wasting any of it.
If you’re not a great cook or don’t have the time to cook for yourself, you probably find it hard to enjoy foods that you really love at home. Highly processed packaged meals might satisfy cravings but will not give you that magical moment of enjoyment that you get out of truly great food. Apart from making it yourself, your options for good food at home are a personal chef, catering, or Babeth’s Feast! The store’s frozen recipes are created by top-flight chefs and made from top quality ingredients with a minimal amount of preservatives.