With the temperature expected to climb as high as 72°F (about 22°C) in New York City on December 24 and the mercury likely to hover around the mid-60° (18°F) mark on the 25th, anyone dreaming of a White Christmas in the metropolitan area will be disappointed – especially as rain as in the forecast. But this doesn’t mean that festive folks in the Big Apple and beyond can’t enjoy a Frozen Christmas.
Babeth’s Feast, an all-frozen food retail emporium at 1422 Third Avenue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, will be open until 8 PM on Christmas Eve, so there’s still time for kitchen skill-challenged New Yorkers who are home for the holidays to “make it merry” with Babeth’s heat-and-eat gourmet cuisine.
Editors of FrozenFoodsBiz.com toured the establishment recently as it was gearing up for the seasonal sales surge anticipated as party planners prepare for Christmas and New Year celebrations. Susie Cover, product development chef, saw to it that a smorgasbord of holiday-perfect hors d’oeuvres, side dishes and desserts were served. The treats ranged from flaky puff pastries prepared with sherry-infused black mission figs, caramelized onion and creamy goat cheese filled appetizers; to creamy mashed sweet potatoes blended with butter, a hint of maple syrup and a pinch of salt; to spiced pumpkin tarts with just the right amount of brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg inside a flaky pecan crust.
Babeth’s holiday menu main courses serving two persons include Duck a l’Orange, dauphine potatoes, a green bean medley and chocolate soufflés for $40. For five dollars more, two can indulge in Rack of Lamb with red wine sauce, mashed sweet potatoes, sautéed mixed mushrooms, green beans and crèmes brulées. They are both in-store and online (www.babethsfeast.com) through New Year’s Eve.
There are more than 400 products stocked in New York’s only exclusively upscale frozen food store, which features gourmet fare that runs the gamut from Pan-seared New York Strip Steaks with chimichurri sauce, Duck Confit with collard greens, Grilled Tuna Steaks with corn and mango salsa, Lobster Risotto on the half shell, and Beef Bourguignon.
Belgian-born Elisabeth de Kergorlay, an investor in Le Pain Quotidien, and Jason Bauer, founder of Crumbs Bake Shop, opened Babeth’s Feast a bit more than a year ago. The idea for the business was imported from France, where frozen food retail outlets are a way of life for shoppers seeking quality food that is quick and easy to prepare and serve at home.
“I discovered frozen food there in my late 20’s,” said 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 workday, 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.
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, and 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 oven. 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.