France launches logo to boost homemade cuisine

A new law designed to help restore the reputation of France's famed gastronomy came into force on Tuesday. The decree is aimed at encouraging French restaurants to serve up homemade dishes rather than ready meals but some critics say the move could make things worse.

France launches logo to boost homemade cuisine
Chefs in Paris make hachis parmentier from scratch. That could be classed as "homemade" unde a new law. Photo: T. Samson/AFP

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.

SEE ALSO: French chefs launch elite quality restaurant guide

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."

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Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?