FROM tomorrow, diners will in theory be able to to confidently identify restaurants that prepare dishes in-house, rather than buy in pre-prepared meals.
According to a decree published in the Official Journal yesterday, the law will make restaurants identify dishes as "fait maison" - homemade - either in words or (preferably) with a house roof-over-a-pan lid logo, if they have been made in-house from fresh ingredients.
If a restaurant's entire menu is "fait maison", it can display the logo or mention the words "homemade" once, otherwise any homemade meals should be singled out.
All restaurants, however, will be required to have a note somewhere highly visible - preferably on the menu - reminding diners of the definition of "homemade" dishes. If you see this, and nothing else, it may mean that none of the dishes are homemade.
The law is in place from tomorrow (July 15) and is meant to be enforced by anti-fraud inspectors, but there will be a grace period, without fines, until January 1.
Supporters say the law could create jobs by encouraging a return to traditional restaurant cooking.
It comes in response to concerns that the country's gastronomic reputation is being damaged as some restaurants serve pre-prepared meals as restaurant-quality cuisine.
“We want to give a clear, accurate and easy to understand for the consumer while enhancing the restaurateurs who make an effort,” said consumer affairs secretary Carole Delga.
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, can be used to prepare a “homemade” dish.
Frites, however, must be prepared in-house to qualify for the distinction.
Exceptions have also been made for prepared products such as bread, pasta, cheese and wine.
A survey by restaurant federation Synhorcat last year found 31% of restaurants in France use at least some ready-made dishes. Of those, two-thirds said that if a label forced them to confess the practice to clients they would prepare fresh produce instead.
But experts suspect many more restaurants are using industrial food but not admitting it. A TV programme broadcast last year showed that 70% of restaurants serve frozen or bought-in pre-prepared food.
In April last year, the College Culinaire de France, a group founded by the country's leading chefs launched a “quality restaurant” label awarded to eateries that meet top cooking and service standards.
And MP Daniel Fasquelle called for eateries that used factory-made foods to lose the right to call themselves restaurants.
He argues that the new law is not strict enough. "Sadly, a place can call itself a restaurant and not cook one single dish in its kitchen," he said.