In France last year a group of well-known Chefs started a campaign to halt the use of convenience foods in the restaurant sector.
Their concerns were in relation to the large number of food outlets, both chain and independent, including some well-known names, who were using dishes that were pre-prepared in a factory, packaged and simply reheated in a restaurant or hotel kitchen. These Chefs felt that this practice was effectively perpetrating a fraud on the customer and was severely undermining both the cultural and culinary traditions of France as well as having a detrimental effect on employment and training in the food sector.
Well, the French Government has agreed with them, and has passed laws that come into effect this summer that oblige restaurants and cafes to show which dishes are truly home-made and cooked on the premises and those which may be pre-prepared elsewhere and either cooked on the premises or merely reheated.
The sign of a home cooked and prepared dish is a stylised saucepan with a house roof above as a lid and this should be used on all menus from this summer onwards.
As with all things in France this has caused huge arguments with detractors pointing out that loopholes in the law will be exploited by the unscrupulous, that menus in quality restaurants will be littered with symbols and that it would have been better if the regulations provided for the identification of factory food rather than the other way about. However, I think that some form of identification of the source of meals would be a great idea here in the UK too.
I am sick and tired of seeing dishes that appear in a commercial caterer’s brochure being described as “home cooked”. Technically I suppose it’s true if you consider taking something out of your deepfreeze, putting it into the oven or microwave and then, some minutes later, putting it onto the customer’s plate as “home cooking”!
There is a place in all establishments for some pre-prepared items, it is not practical for many restaurants to bake their own bread products for instance, or make their own cheese, but for most things, a quality restaurant with proper chefs should be making meals from raw, fresh ingredients.
Until the British restaurant sector adopts a similar type of recognition to the French system for those who produce real food in house, there are a few things to look out for if you want proper restaurant food, freshly prepared from raw ingredients by a real chef on the premises where you eat.
Have a good and close look at the menu ( or Carte), as a rule of thumb if there are 10 or less items in each section of the carte, starters, mains and desserts, then there is a good chance that most items are both home-made and home cooked, and if there are blackboard specials they should be very few in number and either be dishes the restaurant is well known for, or items prepared from fresh seasonal ingredients.