French menus set to get ‘homemade’ quality mark

Never know whether your meal in a French restaurant has been cooked on site with fresh ingredients or just warmed up in a microwave? In a bid to help diners distinguish, France looks set to create a new "homemade" logo for restaurant menus.

French menus set to get 'homemade' quality mark
Chefs in Paris make hachis parmentier from scratch. A new French plan would force restaurants to label dishes made using fresh produce as 'home made' on menus. Photo: T. Samson/AFP

France's minister for crafts, trade and tourism Sylvia Pinel, who is due to meet restaurant and hotel-owners in Paris on Monday, will include the ‘homemade’ food tag as an amendment to a bill on consumption when it is scheduled to appear before the National Assembly later in the evening.

“In restoring consumer trust, this label is aimed at supporting quality restaurants,” a representative of the minister told French daily Le Parisien.

According to sources cited by the newspaper, the ‘homemade’ label would be placed next to a dish on the menu which has been cooked on site using fresh ingredients. It is one of ten measures on consumer issues to be included in Monday evening’s debate.

“We have to move towards more transparency by forcing restaurant-owners to show on their menu whether their dishes are made from industrial ingredients or not,” said Socialist deputy Thomas Tévenoud, who wrote the amendment.

Monday’s development is the latest chapter in an ongoing movement to restore French cuisine’s once stellar global reputation.

In May, a French syndicate of restaurant-owners and hoteliers proposed to limit the label of ‘restaurant’ to only those establishments that use fresh produce to make their dishes themselves.

According to the ‘Syndicat national des hoteliers, restaurauteurs, cafetiers et traiteurs’ (National syndicate of hoteliers, restauraunt-owners, café-owners and traders, or Synhorcat), the reform is aimed at improving the information available to French diners.

A recent poll said one out of every two French consumers didn’t trust restaurants.

“When they walk into a restaurant, customers don’t know whether their meal was just reheated, or lovingly cooked up by a whole kitchen staff,” Synhorcat president Didier Chenet told TF1 television at the time.

“With this [restaurant] label, now they will know,’ he added.

As well as boosting consumer confidence and transparency, changing the way meals or restaurants are labelled could lead to a major increase in employment at French restaurants.

“Restaurants that cook on-site, using fresh ingredients, would employ more staff than those who resort to prepared meals,” said Chenet.

“This [plan] could create between 20,000 and 25,000 jobs throughout the whole profession,” he added.

As France’s once world-beating restaurants suffer a decline in clientele, to the benefit of fast-food outlets, this week’s proposal is only the latest in an ongoing movement to give back French cuisine its stellar global reputation.

In April, top chefs including Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon launched a new ‘quality restaurant’ label for establishments that prepare their own food and give diners a proper welcome.

Speaking during the launch of that campaign, world-famous Michelin-starred chef Ducasse declared: "We must not wait for things to get worse. We cannot continue to let media in the English-speaking world say 'France is not what it was' in terms of cuisine."

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Let them eat bread: the origins of the French baguette

More than six billion baguettes are baked each year in France and UNESCO has now inscribed the tradition in its “intangible cultural heritage” list.

Let them eat bread: the origins of the French baguette

The French baguette – one of the country’s most abiding images – was given world heritage status by UNESCO on Wednesday, the organisation announced.

READ ALSO French baguette gets UNESCO world heritage status

Here are some of the more popular theories:

Napoleon’s Bread of War
The oldest tale has the baguette being kneaded by bakers in Napoleon’s army. Less bulky than a traditional loaf, the long slim shape of the baguette made it faster to bake in brick ovens hastily erected on the battlefield.

France’s most famous man of war was preoccupied with getting his men their daily bread.

During his Russian campaign in 1812, he toured the ovens daily to sample the day’s offering and ensure the crusty batons were being distributed regularly, according to historian Philippe de Segur.

He also had portable bread mills sent to occupied Moscow, but the setbacks suffered by the Grande Armee in one of the deadliest military campaigns in history ended his bid to export the doughy staple.

Viennese connection
Another theory has the baguette starting out in a Viennese bakery in central Paris in the late 1830s.

Artillery officer and entrepreneur August Zang brought Austria’s culinary savoir-faire to Paris in the form of the oval-shaped bread that were standard in his country at the time.

According to the Compagnonnage des boulangers et des patissiers, the French bakers’ network, Zang decided to make the loaves longer to make them easier for the city’s breadwomen to pluck from the big carts they pushed through the city’s streets.

Breaking bread
Another theory has the baguette being born at the same time as the metro for the 1900 Paris Exposition.

People from across France came to work on the underground and fights would often break out on site between labourers armed with knives, which they used to slice big round loaves of bread for lunch.

According to the history site, to avoid bloodshed, one engineer had the idea of ordering longer loaves that could be broken by hand.

Early rising
In 1919, a new law aimed to improve the lives of bakers by banning them from working from 10 pm to 4 am.

The reform gave them less time to prepare the traditional sourdough loaf for the morning, marked the widespread transition to what was called at the
time the yeast-based “flute”, which rose faster and was out of the oven in under half an hour.

Standardised at 80 centimeters (30 inches) and 250 grams (eight ounces) with a fixed price until 1986, the baguette was initially the mainstay of wealthy metropolitans, but after World War II became the emblem of all French people.