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Only in France: Why a French Chef was charged €13k by taxman for eating at his own restaurant

A restaurant owner in southern France has been ordered to pay €13,000 into France’s social security system - because he and his wife cooked and ate his own meals at his bistrot.

Only in France: Why a French Chef was charged €13k by taxman for eating at his own restaurant
Is cooking yourself a meal a taxable benefit? France says yes. Photos: Deposit Photos

Patrick Coudert, who together with his wife runs the Maxim restaurant in the coastal town of Gruissan in the Aude department, has been ordered to pay €13,000 to Urssaf, the national network collecting employee and employer social security contributions.

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The restauranteur has been told that eating in his own restaurant is considered a type of benefit – and is therefore subject to tax.

French law obliges all restaurateurs to provide food to their employees at their place of work. In this context, Urssaf has presumed that the Couderts have lunch and dinner at their own restaurant.

“The inspectors look at the price of the least expensive meal on the menu and multiply it by the number of days worked during the time in question, without forgetting surcharges” Patrick Cabrol, Coudert's accountant, told regional daily l’Indépendant.

“I don’t even have lunch, there’s no time,” Patrick Coudert clarified.

Authorities initially demanded €24,000 for meals eaten in 2016 and 2017.

“At first, the inspector wrote me down as having the €23 menu; I got him to drop it to €17 and finally €14,” Coudert explained.

“I managed to make him understand that I did not have dessert and that there were days I wasn’t even at the restaurant.

“This situation is affecting my business and if it had happened to me last year, I would have had to close down the restaurant.”

It’s in fact the second time in recent days that Urssaf’s controversial demands make the news, with famous French chef Arnaud Bloquel also being ordered to pay €14,000 for eating at his two restaurants on the island of Guadeloupe.

Fortunately for worried French restaurant owners, France’s Minister of Public Action and Accounts Gérald Darmanin has spoken out against this policy.

“Yes, an absurd situation stemming from an obsolete rule! As soon as possible I will propose together with the Health Minister Agnès Buzyn that we change it and ask Urssaf to reconsider the case of this chef,” he wrote on Twitter on October 21st.

In 2018 France’s Parliament passed a bill establishing a “right to make mistakes”, intended to allow citizens and businesses to avoid administrative sanctions at the first breach. 

Darmanin has since signed a decree for the review of these two cases involving chefs accused of not declaring the food they’ve bought, prepared and eaten at their own restaurants.

 

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Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!

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