Boeuf bourgignon, veal blanquette, duck a l’orange and gratin dauphinois — all mainstays of French cuisine, and a familiar sight on menus across the country.
Except these dishes aren’t on offer in a quaint eatery with flavours that vary according to the chef’s mood — rather they’ve been mass produced, vacuum-sealed in congealed 2-kg packs and sold wholesale to restaurants from an icy warehouse, with microwave re-heating instructions stuck on the side.
This is one of France’s darker culinary secrets — that in a country that revels in its gastronomic reputation, anyone, in theory, could open a “traditional” restaurant with little more than a microwave and a grill.
France President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative government has taken the matter in hand.
The lower house National Assembly approved a new law this week that will oblige eateries to indicate whether or not their food is freshly cooked or ready-made.
"(Restaurants) are the only place where you really don’t know what you’re eating," said deputy Fernand Sire of the ruling UMP party, the man behind the original proposal for the law.