” Home-made ” dishes in restaurants: what does it really mean? (At least in France)

“Homemade” has long been a purely marketing argument, and is still seen as such by customers, even though it is a legally regulated practice designed to protect the consumer, at least in France.

You may notice that in our restaurant reviews we sometimes insist on the fact that a restaurant offers homemade dishes, and the labels we use to ensure this. Why ? I think it’s pretty easy to guess.

Firstly, because when a restaurateur simply reheats and assembles tinned dishes, he’s not adding any value to what you can do at home for less with the same products. Secondly, because if we go to a restaurant, it’s to take advantage of a professional’s know-how in terms of quality and sometimes creativity. Finally, because we can’t stand being made a fool of: for a restaurateur to simply reheat and assemble prepared dishes seems to us to be the antithesis of the values of the profession, but it’s understandable in a certain context, in a certain price range, as long as he assumes it. But for him to claim that the dishes are homemade is an intellectual swindle: if reheating a tin of duck confit and a tin of vegetables and putting them together on a plate is called catering, then I deserve a Michelin star!

But saying that a dish is homemade is tempting because it reassures the customer, even attracts him, and restaurateurs may think that reheating is preparing and preparing is cooking, succumbing to the lure of marketing that is as easy as it is deceptive. This has long been the case for some, prompting the French government to legislate to define what a home-made cuisine really is, and thus restore the value of this appellation by reassuring customers. This is something we are often reminded of abroad when we talk to other tourists who tell us they no longer believe in this misguided marketing argument, which unfortunately leads them to lose confidence in the entire profession because of a few black sheep. Once again, we’re not blaming the ” warming and assembling cooks”, just those who don’t assume it or, worse still, lie about it. Fortunately, France has a law on the subject, and for once our legislative bulimia has worked to good effect, we might as well talk about it.

So, for those French people who don’t know, and for foreign tourists who think the situation here is just like at home, here’s what you need to know about the “fait maison” (home-made)label in French restaurants and the related title of “maitre restaurateur”.

Homemade food in French restaurants.

In France it’s a 2014 decree, amended in 2016, that defines what “home-made” means so that consumers can know that what they’re about to eat has been prepared on site, using raw produce.

In the end, everything is said in the preceding sentence.

The “fait maison” (home-made) label distinguishes artisanal production from industrial production ready for consumption without any processing by the restaurateur. It can be claimed by any type of restaurateur: traditional, takeaway, fast food, contract catering, etc.

There are two things to know: the dish must be made from raw ingredients and cooked on site.

Which ingredients are right for homemade dishes?

Raw products are products that the restaurateur has received without having undergone any processing. They have not been cooked, heated or mixed with other products (apart from salt for preservation).

On the other hand, the product may have been packaged (sliced, peeled, chopped, boned, smoked, etc.) or even deep-frozen, again provided it has not been processed.

Frozen foods are therefore authorized, but only if they have been frozen in their “raw” state. In other words, frozen chicken or fish are acceptable, but not vegetables, which are usually blanched before freezing.

On the other hand, there are authorized ingredients when they are part of the composition of a dish (they are not the dish, but they are part of it) and the customer can legitimately expect them to be made outside for reasons of hygiene, industrialization or respect for a controlled origin. Home-made dishes can therefore include :

  • smoked fish, rillettes and fish roe etc., cured meats and charcuterie, with the exception of terrines and pâtés
  • cheeses, edible fats, cream and milk
  • bread, flour and dry cookies
  • dried and candied vegetables and fruit
  • pasta and cereals
  • yeast, sugar and gelatin
  • condiments, spices, aromatics, concentrates
  • chocolate, coffee, herbal teas and infusions
  • syrups, wines, spirits and liqueurs

For reasons of hygiene, this list also includes raw sauerkraut, blanched offal and sauce stocks, provided that the latter is notified to the consumer.

Outside this list, there’s no salvation: everything must have been received raw, unprocessed, unassembled.

Canned duck confit is not homemade, and if the restaurateur makes it himself, it’s homemade unless he accompanies it with canned vegetables…

It’s easy to get lost, but if you feel like consulting the decree, click here.

On-site cooking

Another criterion is that cooking must be done on site, which excludes, for example, central kitchens that supply several restaurants. However, the designation remains valid for caterers and mobile sales activities.

How is the “fait maison” (home-made) label awarded?

This is perhaps the only limitation of the system: there is no a priori check. A restaurateur can decide on his own to say that his menu or certain dishes are homemade, as long as he complies with the above criteria… or thinks he does…. or wants to make people think he does.

If your entire menu is homemade, you can put the word “homemade” and the corresponding logo on it, but if only certain dishes meet the homemade criteria, he’ll have to indicate this dish by dish on his menu.

We can understand the absence of prior control, which would be very cumbersome to implement, but a retrospective control does exist. During its regular inspections, the DGCCRF ( General Directorate for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control) can fine a restaurant owner guilty of deceptive practices and misleading advertising.

But as long as we’re talking about “fait maison”, we can’t avoid mentioning the title of “Maitre Restaurateur”, which is a state label.

Maitre Restaurateur: the only state-approved title in the French restaurant industry

While the existence of a legal framework defining what “home-made” means is an excellent thing, and provides clear, unbiased information for consumers, some restaurateurs have gone one step further and joined the Maitre Restaurateur label.

Finally, join is not the right word: to become a Maitre Restaurateur, it is not enough to join the Association Française des Maitres Restaurateurs; you have to meet precise specifications. Each application is examined by an audit carried out by an independent body, and the label is awarded for a period of 4 years, at the end of which the restaurateur will have his or her compliance with the specifications re-examined.

What’s the link between home made and Maitres Restaurateurs? While a restaurateur can have a menu made up in whole or in part of home-made dishes, the Maitre Restaurateur is obliged to make 100% home-made dishes, in addition to meeting a certain number of professional criteria.

The Maitre Restaurateur label was created in 2007 by the Association Française des Maitres Restaurateurs and the French government, making it the only state-approved title in the restaurant industry in France.

But the maitre restaurateur label goes further than just “home-made”: the specifications include criteria relating to the cuisine, the dining room and the service. These include the restaurateur’s training and experience, staff training, appearance and interpersonal skills, the obligation to include a certain number of seasonal regional dishes on the menu, and quality criteria that also apply to suppliers of semi-finished products (charcuterie, etc.), such as complete mastery of the production cycle, quantities served and presentation of dishes… You can find a full list of specifications here.

While “fait maison” is about the dish, “Maitre Restaurateur” is about the restaurateur himself, his cusine, his staff and his property.

The Maitre Restaurateur title is therefore much broader in scope than “fait maison”, and therefore more restrictive in terms of a restaurateur’s ability to claim it, and logically all the more reassuring for the consumer.

Interestingly, the Maitres Restaurateurs are making a name for themselves beyond our borders. Again in partnership with the French government, the AFMR has created the World French Restaurant label, aimed at restaurateurs around the world who promote French cuisine. This label also corresponds to strict specifications, is subject to an audit and also includes the obligation of homemade cooking according to the criteria explained above.

Bottom line

Unlike many other countries, the use of the ” Home-made ” label in France is subject to strict conditions laid down by law. The title of Maitre Restaurateur, the only state-approved title in the restaurant industry, adds a certain number of experience, training and quality criteria.

While it’s not only Maitres Restaurateurs who do homemade food, with a Maitre Restaurateur you can be sure that this is always the case, and that it is verified by a regular audit, which also imposes strict specifications on many aspects of the restaurant trade. And this title is beginning to spread beyond France’s borders with the World French Restaurant label.

What about you? Did you know that the “home-made” label was regulated, or did you think it was just a marketing gimmick? Would the presence of the “fait maison” or Maitre Restaurateur logos encourage you to choose one restaurant over another?

Tell us in the comments.

Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrinhttp://www.duperrin.com
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.
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