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France

Loophole in France’s 'homemade' cuisine logo cooks up a storm

© AFP / Miguel Medina - A waiter carries plates of food in the restaurant "Le Mesturet" in Paris

Text by Mehdi CHEBIL

Latest update : 2014-07-15

France’s attempt to curb the proliferation of pre-packaged or reheated food in restaurants with a new “homemade” logo has been slammed by foodies, who say the new legislation includes too many loopholes.

Has the savoury-looking onion soup or boeuf bourguignon on your plate really been cooked by the in-house chef? Or is it simply a pre-packaged meal prepared by an industrial food giant, frozen, and then reheated in the restaurant’s kitchen?

Tourists nowadays looking forward to the kind of multi-course gastronomic meal that earned French cuisine a spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage List are more likely to be ripped off by eateries charging bistro prices for microwaved ready meals, particularly in restaurants close to sightseeing hotspots.

The French government’s decree on creating a new "homemade" label was introduced to maintain the country’s reputation for high quality gastronomy. Consumer Affairs Minister Carole Delga said her aim was to “recognise the act of cooking... by giving the consumer simple and reliable information".

From July 15, restaurateurs can add an official logo to their menu next to any dish that is "fait maison", or homemade. The logo - the roof of a house over a cooking pot – is supposed to help customers to distinguish freshly cooked dishes from ready meals.

"The problem with this new label is that there is no guarantee that the dish is actually homemade", Jean Terlon, chef at Le Saint-Pierre restaurant in Longjumeau and vice-president of the UMIH - an association for the hotel and restaurant industry - told FRANCE 24.

Not-so-high culinary standards

According to the new law, produce that have already been frozen, refrigerated, cut up, ground, smoked, or peeled before their delivery to the restaurant can still qualify for the "homemade" label as long as the chef does some in-house cooking.

"I do artisanal cooking. When I create a dish with vegetables, I clean them, peel them, and cook them. But a chef who uses canned vegetables will qualify for the same ‘homemade’ label if he simply heats them or adds a sauce. Of course the taste would be different", Terlon said.

The long list of exemptions and the extensive definition of “raw produce” in the decree means that the same “homemade” label could apply to both freshly cooked cuisine and meals made partly from industrial kitchens. Some restaurateurs have even suggested that the move could backfire by confusing customers even more about what exactly is on their plate.

"We do only homemade food here – we don’t even have a microwave or a freezer - but this new label is confusing. If it allows restaurants to label a dish ‘homemade’ that has not been cooked in-house, then it’s opening the door to anything" Annette Sturzenegger, a worker at Le Picotin restaurant in Paris, told FRANCE 24.

Sturzenegger says that she agreed with the initial idea to promote real cooking as she herself is "frequently disappointed" when she goes out to eat. And she’s far from being alone, according to a recent IFOP poll conducted in France, 72% of respondents said they felt like they had been served frozen ready meals at a restaurant.

Date created : 2014-07-15

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