France battles ‘microwave’ food in restaurants

fait maison

Fearing the creeping use of re-heated pre-prepared food in restaurants, French lawmakers have voted to force restaurants to use a “home made” label for freshly made dishes, and will fine those that use it fraudulently.

In a bid to stop industrially prepared re-heated food undermining France’s culinary reputation, French lawmakers on Thursday voted to oblige restaurants that prepare fresh dishes to label menu items “fait maison” [home made].

Voted by the lower National Assembly, the bill must now be passed by the upper Senate.

The move, if passed, will be compulsory – and offenders fraudulently passing off re-heated food as freshly-made will be fined.

French Trade Minister Sylvia Pinel, who authored the bill, originally wanted the label to be optional – but relented to pressure from other assembly members for whom the proposed law did not go far enough.

Many in the restaurant trade have been calling for the introduction of an “appellation” – a quality control similar to that applied to French wine – so that only those establishments that prepare their dishes in-house from raw ingredients can call themselves restaurants.

Assembly Member Daniel Fasquelle of the conservative opposition UMP party called the bill a “half measure” and said he wanted to reward establishments that “actually make food” with the “restaurant appellation”.

‘A good first step’

Restaurant owners – at least those who take pride in serving freshly-made meals – were cautiously optimistic.

Alain Fontaine, who owns the Le Mesturet restaurant in Paris, where he employs 13 qualified cooks, said it was “a good first step” towards having a “restaurant appellation” in France.

“It will take eight to 10 years for that to happen,” he told FRANCE 24. “There is too much conflict and disagreement for it to happen overnight, but it is important that things evolve slowly in that direction.”

Fontaine explained that a growing number of eateries in France use pre-prepared meals that are simply heated up before being served as authentic French cuisine – and that there was no way for the customer to know exactly how the food had been prepared.

“It’s not like food in restaurants comes with a complete breakdown of ingredients,” he said. “And these pre-prepared foods, just like those you buy in supermarkets, are stuffed full of preservatives and artificial colouring. Customers should be given the choice between something cooked from scratch and something that has been put together in a factory.”

He also said the move towards officially-recognising properly-prepared dishes was essential to preserve France’s “gastronomic heritage” at a time when disillusioned French chefs were taking their skills abroad.

“Using pre-prepared food debases the entire industry,” he said. “It brings us all down because as its use evolves, there will be a growing price gap between places that re-heat food, and restaurants that do it properly. This is totally unacceptable, the French tradition of enjoying quality food in restaurants is something that should be accessible to everyone, not just the rich.”

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