French scoff at restaurant food packs

Food lovers may put France on a pedestal, but microwaved or pre-packaged dishes have become so common in restaurants that authorities are introducing a new "homemade" label for chefs cooking meals from scratch.

From Tuesday, French restaurants will be able to hang up a "homemade" logo for all to see if the in-house chef makes everything him- or herself, or next to specific dishes on the menu, according to a decree published Sunday in the official government gazette.

The move comes in response to concerns that the country's prized gastronomic reputation is being damaged by substandard eateries as many restaurants serve boil-in-a-bag or microwaved ready meals as restaurant-quality cuisine.

"The aim of this decree is to recognise the act of cooking, recognise a know-how... by giving the consumer simple and reliable information," Consumer Affairs Minister Carole Delga told AFP.

Much of the decree centres on what products can be used -- and how -- to qualify for the "homemade" label.

The decree says raw products that have already been frozen, refrigerated, cut up, ground, smoked, or peeled by the time they are delivered to the restaurant, apart from potatoes, qualify for the distinction.

"Frozen chips for example are not part of this decree. That means that those used by fast-food restaurants will not be considered homemade, just like sauces that arrive ready-made will not be considered homemade," Delga said.

Exceptions are made for some prepared products such as bread, pasta, cheese and wine.

The GNI trade organisation that represents 260,000 workers in the restaurant and hotel industry welcomed the move on Sunday.

The decree aims for "the right balance between promoting our trade and customers' desire for transparence," it said.

The move is just one of several attempts over the past years to address what many see as the declining standards of France's famed restaurants.

In April last year, the College Culinaire de France -- a 15-member industry group founded by the country's leading chefs -- launched a new "quality restaurant" label awarded to eateries that meet top cooking and service standards.

The culinary group -- which counts members such as Alain Ducasse, Joel Robuchon and Guy Savoy -- grants the label to deserving restaurLants and makes sure standards are maintained through online client surveys.

Many websites are also cropping up in France to advise consumers on restaurants where food is prepared in-house.

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