Effective January 1st, a new French law takes effect that will change the way you select your food in French restaurants. On that date, all restaurants in France (whether they claim to prepare homemade dishes or not) will be required to indicate somewhere in the restaurant the definition of what a homemade dish is:
Les plats « faits maison » sont élaborés sur place à partir de produits bruts.
This sentence states that homemade dishes are those that have been prepared in-house from raw products.
Bringing consistency to the restaurant industry, the law goes on to state what comprises a homemade dish:
- “Prepared in-house” means that the raw products arrive from a supplier for elaboration in the kitchen of the restaurant.
- “Raw products” means that each element of the dish arrives at the restaurant in a raw state. It cannot have undergone cooking or transformation by other processes or have been mixed with other products that might have transformed it from its natural state.
However, the term “raw products” does not mean that the produce must arrive fresh from the farm. Between the farm and the restaurant, food items can undergo certain processes that do not affect their basic nature. Examples include cleaning, peeling (except for potatoes), slicing, cutting, deboning, shelling, grinding, milling, smoking, and salting, or processes that preserve them from spoilage, such as refrigeration, freezing, or sealing them in vacuum packs.
Recognizing that it would be impractical to impose the requirement that chefs make all of their ingredients in-house, the law goes on to list products that may be used even though they have undergone transformation from their natural state:
- Cured fish and sausage, but not terrines or pâtés
- Cheese, milk, sour cream, animal fat
- Bread, flour, and cookies
- Dried or candied vegetables and fruit
- Pasta and cereal
- Raw sauerkraut
- Rising agents, sugar, and gelatin
- Condiments, spices, herbs, concentrates, chocolate, coffee, tea
- Syrup, wine, alcohol, and liqueurs
- Blanched offal
- Raw puff pastry
- Fowl, fish, and meat stocks, subject to informing the consumer of their use.
Restaurants that claim to make homemade dishes must identify these dishes on their menus either with the notation “Fait maison” or with the “Fait maison” image (a roof of a house over a frying pan). Restaurants that claim that all of their dishes are homemade may indicate that fact before each dish or indicate it in a unique spot on the menu.
This new law has already provoked controversy in the restaurant industry, with some chefs wondering whether important ingredients that they have been using fall under the list of exceptions. Some wonder how homemade dishes they normally prepare that are accompanied with a transformed element that is not an exception might qualify under the law. An example of such a case would be a homemade crêpe served with an industrially-produced jam.
As for consumers, the new law should go a long way to remove the doubt about whether a dish that they order in a restaurant in France is homemade or not.
On your next trip to Paris, be sure to look for the “fait maison” logo when you dine out.
Tom Reeves is the author of a recent e-book entitled Dining Out in Paris – What You Need to Know before You Get to the City of Light.