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Gourmet food for fast times: a world apart from Big Macs

The newest international food trend is elegant eating on the go. In France, you can order a dinner that's computerized to guarantee delivery in 30 minutes for about $25. In London, Fortnum & Mason will pack its elegant ``Idyllic Picnic'' for two and send you off in a Rolls-Royce with a butler - for about $340. These are examples of what is called the ``new fast food,'' and it is obviously more for the privileged than for the everyday muncher. It has little to do with the fast-food chains that have proliferated around America and have been popping up in places like Paris, Rome, and Tokyo.

``New fast'' is food for people who are too busy to cook but who want well-prepared dishes that are unusual, different, and, well, new.

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``It means upscale takeout foods, computerized delivery, informal eating, and new technology,'' says Christine Masclee, a food industry spokeswoman at a food seminar called ``Innovations '87'' in New York City, where the concept of ``new fast food'' was introduced.

``The new fast food is appearing in London, Paris, New York, and other large cities according to surveys of restaurant owners, food consultants, and consumers,'' says Ms. Masclee.

Jacques Hesse trucks rush through Paris delivering a complete meal for one, for about $25, according to Masclee. Sans lever le petit doigt (without lifting a finger) is the company slogan.

At Fortnum & Mason in London and at Fauchon in Paris, kitchens will put together a real luxury snack that requires no cooking - in Paris, for example, it could be a Fauchon cranberry-glazed duck for a picnic in the Tuileries. At the same time, there is a strong return to regional food in France, a change from several years of the ``nouvelle'' trend. But there's an accompanying trend to faster dining.

There's literally fast-food service, too, on Le Train Bleu, where the menu states ``very high speed'' meals in 45 minutes in Belle 'Epoque splendor at Paris's Gare de Lyon. The food is traditional; service impeccable.

Also regarding quicker service, Patricia Wells, a food writer in Paris, admits that ``times have changed somewhat in France: More and more restaurants offer a menu rapide, usually a single main course,'' she says.

Despite the menu rapide, however, she still advises that one prepare to ``set aside plenty of time for dining in France. You can expect to spend anywhere from one to three hours at table for a substantial lunch or dinner. ``If you must eat in 30 minutes or under an hour, visit a caf'e, tea salon, ..., or brasserie,'' Wells advises. ``Don't attempt to rush through a meal at a serious French restaurant.''

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