Food in plastic bags doesn't exactly conjure up images of gourmet fare. But French-born Gerard Rubaud, co-owner of Gérard's Haute Cuisine in Fairfax, Vt., has put nearly everything from foie gras to poached pears in raspberry sauce into see-through, vacuum-packed pouches. Each week Rubaud, 44, sells 4,000 plastic-packed gourmet meals to restaurants, executive dining rooms and private parties, mainly on the East Coast. "In the pouches, food looks like plasma," admits Rubaud. But drop the pouches into boiling water for three minutes and voilà!—instant gourmet meals.

Americans tend to associate "boil bags" with low quality frozen foods. But Rubaud insists that food vacuum-sealed in pouches is as tasty as fresh food. First developed as a method for preserving expensive edibles, the vacuum technique is simple. Immediately after the food is cooked, it is arranged in plastic sacks and popped into machines that suck the air out. Vacuum sealing preserves the color, texture and taste of food, and the pouches can then be stored in the refrigerator for up to 30 days. The consumer gets food that "is very clean and fresh because it doesn't oxidize or come in contact with any impurities," says Rubaud.

A former president of Rossignol Ski Co., which manufactures ski equipment, Rubaud started Haute Cuisine in 1983. He imported two French chefs as co-owners who helped him perfect a line of 225 plastic-packed gourmet items.

The 4,000-square-foot kitchen, where all the firm's foods are prepared, is the essence of quality. Every day local farmers drop off vegetables grown from seeds Rubaud brought from France. A nearby dairy supplies cream and butter, and only local, grainfed lamb and veal are used. Dover sole and turbot are flown in overnight from France as is salmon from Scotland.

Rubaud and his partners recently opened a take-out shop in Bloomingdale's Manhattan store. It offers 50 plastic-packed items, including poached salmon in wine sauce for $7.90 and vanilla mousse with bitter chocolate sauce for $2.50.

Meanwhile Haute Cuisine's chefs are busy cooking up new and better products. So far they haven't figured out how to vacuum pack soufflés, but they're working on it. As Rubaud says, "If you want a gourmet meal that you can get ready in three minutes, plastic pouches are the only answer."