Diners in France would be wise to look a little closer at restaurant menus from now on.
In a bid to give power back to the consumer and help restore the reputation of France’s famed gastronomy, and crack down on the use of frozen ready meals, restaurants will be able to highlight which meals have been made in-house.
From now on any dish that is homemade (faits maison) can now be accompanied on the menu by an official logo – the roof of a house over a pan lid.
According to the decree dishes that qualify as “homemade” are those that are “entirely prepared on site” from “raw products” that “have not been modified”.
It is hoped the move will dissuade restaurants from cutting corners by bringing in ready meals, a method that has been on the increase in recent years and has been causing concern for many in the industry.
The National union of hoteliers, restauraunt-owners, café-owners and traders, or Synhorcat, produced a survey last year that revealed 31 percent of French restaurant-owners admit to using frozen or pre-cooked products.
On the face of it the new law seems a positive move, especially for customers, but many have raised serious doubts that it will be effective.
Their suspicions arise from a number of exceptions that have been included in the decree.
The main issue highlighted by doubters is that products that are "chilled, frozen, deep-frozen, vacuum packed, peeled, sliced, cut, minced, chopped, boned, smoked and skinned" before delivery can be used in a dish without disqualifying it from being “homemade”.
Exceptions have also been made for ready-made products like cheese, bread, pasta and wine.
However to qualify as "homemade" chips or pommes frites would have to be made on site, meaning McDonald's fries won't qualify for the logo.
Francis Attrazic, president of the French Association of Master Restaurateurs defended the exceptions saying: “A raw product that has been frozen but not modified is not the same as a frozen ready meal.”
“This decree clarifies the situation and highlights the skills of the chefs,” he added.
But others have been critical.
In a fierce criticism of the law the Nouvel Observateur magazine writes: “Basically if a restaurant receives a delivery of frozen cod and puts it in the oven with some carrots, taken from a plastic bag, that have already been peeled and sliced, it’s homemade cooking.”
Chef Guy Querioz, said it was designed upside down and should instead highlight those restaurants that use frozen products, rather than those who make “homemade” dishes.
The law, which restaurants must adhere to by 2015, comes as chefs in France have become increasingly concerned about France losing its reputation as the home of fine dining.
In April last year 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."