Haute But Reheated

fast foie gras

Sandra Haurant reports on a new French law that asks restaurants to label their dishes as from-scratch or otherwise:

It might be surprising that a country whose cuisine has World Heritage status needs such a law. And yes, there are plenty of restaurants across France serving delicious freshly cooked food. But midrange restaurants in particular have faced criticism for using factory-made shortcuts in the kitchen.

A survey carried out by French catering union Synhorcat suggested 31% of restaurants (not including cafeterias, bars and fast food outlets) used industrially prepared foods Others claim the proportion is much higher – Xavier Denamur, restaurateur and fresh-food campaigner and filmmaker, carried out his own personal survey, which took him to dozens of restaurants throughout France. He believes closer to three quarters of restaurants relied on industrially produced food.

Lizzie Porter, meanwhile, argues that French cuisine’s greater flaw is monotony, which bureaucratic intervention doesn’t address:

[T]he last thing France needs is yet more rules and symbols to nurture and promote its best cuisine. Already, diners are confronted by an army of stamps and logos that purportly mark quality. Label Rouge denotes free-range eggs and poultry “reared using traditional, free-range production methods”, for example, while AOC – “appellation d’origine contrôlée” (controlled designation of origin) – specifies products, including cheese, meat, lavender and lentils, which have been grown and processed by specific producers in designated geographical areas.

The ins and outs of all the various quality stamps are enough to leave even the most passionate foodie scratching his or her head. Indeed, the proof is in le burger when it comes to younger French generations, who seemingly cannot get enough of fast food chains like McDonald’s and Quick (a French version of Maccy D’s). And when the first Parisian Burger King opened last year, locals queued around the block for a taste of the Whopper.

While France has commendably preserved an independent restaurant industry and pockets of excellent regional cuisine, the latter of which has all but fallen by the wayside in Britain, its haughty belief that its classics are better than everyone else’s is the bigger concern. Instead of stifling restaurant owners with another layer of bureaucracy with which they may comply (inspections on restaurants claiming to offer food “fait maison” are to come into force next year), the French government would be better to foster an environment in which diversity and ingenuity in cooking are encouraged.

(Photo by Amy Ross)