Government proposes answer to decline of gastronomie

Once regarded as the cornerstone of haute cuisine, the French restaurant world has fallen victim to the attraction of pre-prepared, frozen food. Not content to let its heritage fall away, the French government has come up with a novel way of helping consumers be sure that home-made is truly home-made.

A consumer poll last October judged that French restaurant goers believe that only half of restaurant meals are actually “home-made”, while the the Union of Hotel Skills and Industries estimate a whopping 85% of French restaurants use frozen or vacuum packed food.

In a letter to the Telegraph newspaper, UK based Michel Roux identified a “sad demise” in the culinary tradition of his home country. He said he believed kitchens were struggling to meet strict government guidelines on the 35-hour working week, and so were forced to rely on time saving measures. Resorting to pre-prepared, industrially produced food.

He said, “I am concerned that France is in danger of losing its proud food culture and traditions, not to mention its gastronomic supremacy.”

And, with French cuisine at the heart of its tourism trade, the government believe that action must be taken to help preserve quality in the French restaurant kitchen.

A government spokesperson said, “French gastronomy represents 13.5% of foreign tourists’ expenses and it’s undeniable that if we add value to the quality of our restaurants, it will have an impact on tourism.”

So, from 15July, every restaurant in France will have to display a new logo on its menus, designed to indicate which dishes were and were not faits maison.

Carole Delga, secretary of state, said the fait maison logo would “allow all, at a glance, to distinguish food that has been assembled from industrially prepared elements from cuisine created from raw produce”.

Aside from its simple objective, the law is complicated. To be considered fait maison, ingredients must not have been subject to anything that can count as significant “modification” including heating and marinating. They can however, be frozen, industrially peeled, chopped, sliced, or shaped. Chefs can also use industrially made sauce bases – as long as it is marked on the menu.

Yet the new law has been met with reticence from many leading French chefs. Speaking to the Guardian, Xavier Denamur, who has campaigned heavily on the deterioration of French food, said, “I chop all my steak tartare to order, but someone who buys it in, vacuum packed in a controlled atmosphere, where it might have come from 10 different cows, can call theirs fait maison too. It’s ridiculous.

“We could have set an example for Europe, but instead we have this catch-all where the government is trying to go some way to please the consumer, some way to please the restaurant industry and some way to appease the industrials,” Denamur says. “If you can’t make the base for a sauce, don’t make one. Don’t use an industrial one – that’s not real cooking, it’s not fait maison.”

The French government are clearly keep to show that they are doing all they can to ensure quality is at the heart of one of the nation’s proudest assets. Yet is the fait masion sign the answer?

Ellie Clayton

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