French Foodies Fight Ready-Made Meals Served in Restaurants

The move is meant to protect the country’s global reputation for gastronomic excellence.

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French chefs Gerald Passedat, Alain Ducasse, Thierry Marx and Alain Dutournier pose during the launch of a new label for "quality restaurants" at the "College culinaire de France" in Paris on April 8, 2013.

In a move to protect France’s global reputation for gastronomic excellence, French foodies are attempting to ban outlets that sell meals prepared in advance from being called restaurants.

National Assembly member Daniel Fasquelle, with support from a restaurant union, has put forward a proposal that will preserve the term for places that serve food that has been “cooked on site with fresh ingredients,” says the Synhorcat union president Didier Chenet. The measure would prohibit any establishment that serves food that has been frozen, pre-cooked or vacuum-packed from using the restaurant label. The proposal could be introduced as part of an amendment to an upcoming consumer protection law.

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The initiative has the endorsement of celebrity chef Alain Ducasse who, along with 14 other top Michelin-starred chefs, has launched a separate initiative to give restaurants that prepare fresh food in their kitchens a seal of approval under the “Restaurant de Qualité” label. Ducasse says he wants to promote those “fighting to cook using fresh products.”

If agreed to, the changes’ impact would go beyond semantics. According to a documentary by France’s TV 5 last year, three quarters of France’s 150,000 restaurants served frozen or pre-made meals. Some establishments even offered ready-made meals endorsed by famous chefs as “house specialties.” A separate union study revealed that up to 67% of food establishments currently considered restaurants would be willing to replace ready-made meals with freshly cooked food if it meant holding on to the “restaurant” title. The Synhorcat union claims that the move could also result in 27, 000 new jobs as restaurants would have to employ more people to prepare the food.

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Not surprisingly, the initiative faces vocal opponents, including unions that represent France’s largest hotel and fast food outlets. They have voiced concerns that the move could result in job losses and create a gastrocracy. They released a statement in May arguing that the restriction of the use of the label “restaurant” would confuse not only the French public, but also foreign tourists.

Others are more cynical about the whole affair. Former restaurant critic Jonathan Meades told France’s English-language newspaper the Connexion that the label was a PR stunt designed to preserve “the mystery of cheffery.”

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