French chef Cyril Rouquet delicately adds a splatter of his homemade beetroot and aioli sauce and places an edible flower as he dresses his dish of the day – parsley bread-crumbed fish on a bed of seasonal vegetables – for the busy lunch service in his Louvre Bouteille restaurant.
Tucked away in a side street not far from the Louvre museum, Mr. Rouquet's restaurant receives daily deliveries of ingredients from Rungis market, the world's largest fresh produce wholesalers.
But unions claim that this is becoming a rarity in the industry. They say that restaurants in France, long considered a mecca for gastronomy, are increasingly serving diners frozen meals or ready-to-eat plastic sealed meals, attracted by its obvious economic advantage. And one union, which represents artisanal restaurant-owners, wants to crack down on the alleged practice by redefining the word "restaurant."
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Under Synhorcat's ambitious proposal, submitted to the French National Assembly today, the term "restaurant" should only apply to those who cook from scratch and use primary products – or ingredients that cannot be consumed without being cooked. In other words, as Synhorcat says, cuisine "with a knife and not the slash of scissors."
"It doesn't cost more to make your own meals, if you work in an intelligent way," Rouquet says matter-of-factly, tossing a handful of carrot gratings and shrimp shells into a deep pot, which will be reduced to a broth later on.
'Our culture is to Cook'
"Forty percent of tourists come to France for its gastronomy," Synhorcat president, Didier Chenet, says. "And we are cheating these clients because certain restaurants buy pre-prepared meals and microwave it. That is not our culture. Our culture is to cook."
Their proposal follows a similar initiative in April by 15 of France's elite chefs to create the label "restaurant of quality" to promote establishments who prepare their meals in-house.
According to a Synhorcat poll, 50 percent of diners do not trust that restaurants serve freshly prepared meals.
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This proposition is inspired by the "artisanal" baker trade name, introduced in 1995, which distinguishes between bakeries that machine-produce bread and those that bake their own bread from scratch.
In France, there are many existing culinary labels recognized under the law. For example: "organic"; "pure," referring to cold meats; "free-range"; "artisanal"; "traditional"; "natural," referring to non-treated food; "terroir," referring to culinary preparation from a certain region; and "fait maison," or "in-house."
But French fast-food unions argue that adding "restaurant" to this list is elitist and confusing, given the universality of the word. Not surprisingly, they have overwhelmingly opposed the amendment.