Will France’s ‘fait maison’ Law Save its Culinary Reputation?

Will France’s ‘fait maison’ law save its culinary reputation? It’s become a massive issue in La France and has been causing a right storm in a coffee cup for some time. For many French people and for frequent visitors, they have felt that the French restaurant scene was in decline and that its culinary clout was being called into question.
The French government waited for the eve of Bastille day- a day when almost every shop bar and restaurant is shut in the whole of France- to announce measures intended to improve the state of their restaurant scene. But the law, which was designed to promote fresh food in French kitchens, is causing as much of a furore as the storming of the bastille itself did over two centuries ago. What was intended as a gentle nudge to restore French pride in their cuisine has instead caused a revolt among chefs. So what’s it all about?
From 15 July, every restaurant in France has to make clear whether it cooks its food completely from scratch, rather than serving food that has been partially or wholly prepared industrially off-site. Of course it is understandable that if you’re sitting on a bistro terrace, paying bistro prices plus a hefty tip, if the onion soup has been prepared out of a packet somewhere and just had a few extra spices sprinkled in?
But according to outraged chefs, the “fait maison” (in other words “homemade”) law falls far short of its aims and is likely to backfire because the real problems are not addressed.
There was a survey carried out by the influential French catering Union “Synhorcat” that suggested that nearly a third of restaurants (and this excludes café’s bars and fast-food outlets) used industrially prepared foods. In another personal survey the French restaurateur and fresh-food campaignerXavier Denamur checked out dozens of restaurants across France. He believes the percentage of restaurants relying on industrially prepared foods is closer to 75%.
Influential and internationallyrenowned French chef Michel Roux (now based in the UK) blamed this decline on France’s lamentably lax 35-hour working week and high employment costs. He is quoted as saying:
“France is in danger of losing its proud food culture and traditions, not to mention its gastronomic supremacy. In contrast, the food in Britain has improved so much and the standard is largely excellent. It is the reverse of what has occurred in France.”
Some chefs disagree and say they are working far longer hours each week. But few would disagree that high employment costs are crushing. Only high end restaurants can weather the storm and that’s why mid-range restaurants are looking to cut manpower costs by bringing in partially prepared food, stock and sauces from off-site.
To add to the confusion, there has been debate over what constitutes raw produce. Under the law, to qualify as “fait maison”, ingredients must not have undergone significant “modification” off-site– so no heating or marinating. But, for example, they can be frozen, industrially peeled, chopped, sliced, or shaped.
It’s been said that the law is the worst compromise possible because it aims to placate and please the industry, the restaurant, the chefs and the consumers, and at the end of the day pleases no-one. I think this is one botched revolution that is likely to rumble on for some time to come, like an empty stomach in a French restaurant!