Les Apres M - I'm fucking goin McDonald's Marseille
“The individual who is really isolated and cannot trust their own tastes and experiences also cannot trust socially organized deceptions.” Guy Debord
26. April 2023
At lunchtime, I am picking up good vibrations. The interior of the locale is spotless. A disabled worker is slowly circling, doing their pirouettes on the driveway. Salaried workers arrive, stay in groups, and place their orders. The communication in the kitchen is organized and melodic.
While the bulk of hungry folks choose to sit in the shade outside, I await my order at the bar. The fries are plentiful. The format and shape are the size of McDonald's. The sharpness in their cut could as well be julienned. Some show crumbles of yellow-golden goodness. They embrace the intricacy of McDonald's fries while there is a certain elevating crunch to them. The level of salt is just perfect, and the fries arrive not too hot. With them, I take an oxblood-coloured Algerian sauce. The tray has a rough white kitchen paper fixed on it, so no sauce is wasted.
I have a slight hunch of a phantasmagorical allure in L'Après M. This experience isn’t all too bad. I open the box of the signature UFO-Burger. It comes in a saucer shape pressed bun reminiscent of Sci-Fi Hollywood movies in the 1950s. I appreciate this clean ironic take, lunching in the historic modernist architectural space of the French boom town years.
The white bun is a soft, thin crust enclosing the heat of this pressed burger. Still in one bite, different textures are playing together. You can feel the Maillard char on the meat, which is more coarsely grounded than usual. You can see the quality of it in rosa tiny mini cubes. The cheese is melted and keeps it moist and gooey in harmony with the salsa. The tomato is there as is the acidity and crunch. A bright green salad leaf underneath for me is a star. It is crisp and fresh, not tainted by the heat at all. And there is some spice. And still, despite it being a Mediterranean composition with much reference to the Middle East, the whole thing has much to owe to the paradigmatic accord of an American-style McDonald's cheeseburger. Every bite is perfect. I wash it down with a can of Coke.
The burger was created by three Michelin-starred Chef Gerald Passedat, a local Pagnolet figure trained in nouvelle cuisine. He is the chef of Le Petit Nice, a fish restaurant next to a private beach in Marseille that is owned by his family for generations. Passedat, who you can find online posing with the much-hated French president Macron, sponsors city-funded apprenticeship programs for his industry under the social democratic mayor Benoit Payan. A local joked, "Payan may be not afraid of bullets in a port-city where assassinations are nothing out of the ordinary, but when once he realizes that workers are self-organizing, he hears the shot."
In 2022, the city of Marseille bought the formerly squatted property for 600,000 Euros. In the previous years, the former squat emerged as a focal point for the self-activity of our class. Poor workers travelled across the city to receive and organize free food distribution that had its storage on the premises of the communist party. Food inflation is severe in France. In March, it had a year-on-year rate of 15.8%. At the same time, the world's third-biggest shipping company, CMA CGM, whose tower is next to the industrial harbor in Marseille, is now the most profitable in the country with a profit of €23.5 billion. The shipping and food industries are reaping in extra profits while workers see the inflation of money hurting their buying power, faced with stagnating wages.
A quarter pounder menu at McDonald's costs a staggering 12 Euros in Marseille, and it is comparably shit. The UFO-Menu costs 9.40 Euros, and you can max it with 10. The ingredients are sourced from the local Paysan Urban farm. In 2008, the year of the last global financial crash, Ferran Adria, an avant-garde chef of molecular cuisine, noted that ten of the world's best chefs could not make a better burger for the price of McDonald's. "Maybe... they could increase the price and make a hamburger of the best quality with fresh meat. And people would have the option to eat it - but it's going to cost three times as much," he said.
More than a decade later, Gerald Passedat achieved progress. Apparently, you need a state to make it. However, it means nothing much for a city where people cannot afford to eat.