“Fait-Maison”: French Roll Out Logo for “House-made” Restaurant Dishes

Le Mouffetard Restaurant, Paris. Photo: besopha via Flickr.

Le Mouffetard Restaurant, Paris. Photo: besopha via Flickr.

The French have always been particular about their food. Under a recent consumer protection law titled, “Public decree No. 2014-797,” restaurants in France will be allowed to display a symbol to indicate that dishes are “homemade.” The law is intended to combat the growing trend of off-premise preparation and frozen, ready-made food in restaurants.

However, the narrow intentions of the law may not reflect its application. Despite a 21-page guide explaining the law’s stipulations, restaurateurs are already arguing over what constitutes the nature of “house-made,” or as the French say, “fait-maison.” A New York Times article published earlier this week revealed heated controversy over the law’s minute distinctions, which draw fine lines between which foods can be bought ready made and what must be made on-site. For instance, a restaurant can buy “pâte feuilletée,” which is pastry dough that is layered and buttery, much like that found in croissants; a slightly heavier counterpart, “pâte brisée,” must be homemade.

Critics argue that the regulation was heavily influenced by major prepared-food industries, whose lobbying power in the French Parliament far outweigh that of the creative chef, no matter the country’s culinary reputation. The law barely regulates frozen and vacuum-packed foods, approving them as ingredients as long as there is some difference between their initial state and the final product.

Other critics target the misalignment of the law’s intent and its actual function. They argue that a “homemade” meal under these regulations does not necessarily constitute a meal of higher quality. The loose parameters have drawn scathing condemnations from food critics and chefs alike.

Equally worrisome is the possibility of loose enforcement. While restaurants have already begun displaying the “fait-maison” logo, these restaurants will not have to undergo compliance inspections until January 15, 2015. Given that regulation falls under the jurisdiction of the Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes (the DGCCRF), a department responsible for more pressing issues, it is questionable whether examinations will occur on time, if at all.

Despite the controversy, the French government is standing behind the regulation. A website dedicated to the law offers a number of usable logos, website banners, and precise details for commercial use of “fait-maison.” The logos can be places in the window or itemized line-by-line on a menu list to indicate a specific dish’s “fait-maison” quality. While this sort of delineation may seem familiar to those who frequent American restaurant chains (whose menus often feature small symbols for vegetarian, gluten free, and “healthy” dishes), the notion is foreign among the French restaurant crowd.

The little symbol — a house’s roof over a pan — continues to spark controversy in French media, both in print and on blogs. It is difficult to tell at this stage if the bureaucracy will be able to govern French culinary tradition.

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