French Cuisine: Foodies Fight to Protect the Term 'Restaurant'

Their role models are the bakers who managed to stem the tide of cheap supermarket baguettes in 1998 by ensuring that only stores who mixed, kneaded and baked their bread in-house could be called a boulangerie, the French word for bakery. Achieving such a label could now secure similar conditions for restaurants. "We want transparency and quality," says Synhorcat president Didier Chenet. "A law should stipulate that in a restaurant food that has been cooked on site with fresh ingredients is served to customers."

Stoves vs. Microwaves

Although about 80 percent of the chefs endorse the proposal in principle, the initiative is opposed by the low-cost competition from cafeterias, snack bars and sandwich shops. Their representatives -- a total of six organizations -- have announced massive resistance. They warn that such a measure could confuse customers and especially foreign tourists. They also fear complicated regulations and rising costs and claim that "the true wealth of French gastronomy" is at risk.

The fact is that if French parliament passes the law in June, about 10 percent of the country's restaurants could no longer call themselves that.

Synhorcat's president, who now has the support of members of parliament, senators and tourism minister Sylvia Pinel, is optimistic. At least 96 percent of the French people support a seal of approval that guarantees real restaurant cooking. The proponents of cheap food have been outplayed, Chenet says. "A restaurateur does not work with scissors and a microwave, but with a stove and knives."

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