French chefs cook up antidote to coronavirus quarantine confinement

Frustrated at stay-at-home confinement, France's celebrity chefs are cooking up an antidote to the gloomy days of pandemic and quarantine with the help of television and social networks.

French chefs cook up antidote to coronavirus quarantine confinement
Photo: Ludovic Marin / POOL / AFP

“Today it's not chef Lignac talking, it's Cyril who like all French people has to do his shopping near where he lives,” says Cyril Lignac, the nation's current gastronomic media star.

On prime-time television, he sports a T-shirt to prepare dinner from his home on his new show “Everyone in the Kitchen”.

The show focuses on everyday cooking and the travails of the public in a time of national emergency. The coronavirus crisis has enabled chefs “to play a different tune in the kitchen”, he tells AFP.

“It's very interesting to improve people's daily lives by cooking just from the cupboard and the fridge.” –

'No fuss' cuisine 

The show, which opened on France's M6 channel on Tuesday, is scheduled to last only as long as the public's confinement in their own homes.

Lignac says he wants to help his compatriots by proving how easy, good and well-priced it can be to cook at home.

Other chefs are following a similar path.

“There are no tricks,” says Paris chef Amandine Chaignot during an online class explaining how to prepare asparagus.

“I have a tiny kitchen, if I can do it, you can too.” Chaignot may be more used to serving up prestigious banquets but here she's whipping up a dish with one pot — asparagus and eggs bubbling away before runny yolks are mixed with butter and poured over chopped-up white stalks.

Her video was made for mates who often eat in restaurants, she says.

“You can miss so much if you tell yourself 'I don't know how to do the simplest of things,'” she tells AFP. “It has to be easy, quick and not involve a lot of equipment or ingredients you cannot source.” 

'Dad' cooking 

In the Mediterranean city of Marseille, two-star Michelin gourmet Alexandre Mazzia describes himself as a “dad” who does homework, sport and cooking with his children.

In a rare moment of downtime, he posted on social media some recipes adapted to a time of quarantine.

They include a chocolate cake that is “made like an omelette” with no need to whip up egg whites or sift flour, and a green Puy lentil salad that swaps kumquat for green apple and cashews for any nut.

“I received 350 text messages asking me what to do with Puy lentils,” says the award-winning chef.

Triple Michelin star Christophe Bacquie has also taken to social media to help the nation to get cooking.

He wants to put Mediterranean tastes on our plates — endives in orange, honey and rosemary, lemon and olive oïl cake. “It was my wife who convinced me to go on Instagram,” he says.

With the markets closed, he says, shoppers are unlikely to find such things as a John Dory fish to cook with asparagus. Instead, go for a traditional dish like potato galette without eggs or flour,

Bacquie says. “We use what we have,” says Bacquie. “Everyone is confined, we have a duty to lead by example.”

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Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones.