PARIS French restaurants microwaving ready-made boeuf bourguignon and veal blanquette will now be exposed by law, in a move the government hopes will preserve the nation's culinary reputation.
A government decree issued on Tuesday requires restaurants to identify meals prepared on their premises with a "homemade" logo, showing that any other items are likely to have been brought in and simply warmed up.
Any restaurant misusing the logo - a pan with a roof-shaped lid - could be fined for the breach starting next year. The legislation applies to all eateries and fast foods but also to caterers and outdoor food stalls.
When the law was drafted a year ago, a survey by restaurant federation Synhorcat had found that 31 percent of French eateries admitted to using at least some ready-made dishes.
The government hopes the measure, the first of its kind in Europe, will encourage restaurants to prepare their dishes from scratch and spruce up the standing of French gastronomy.
But some critics argue that the new rules are so confusing they will not meet their key objective: to give customers clear information about the food they eat and how it was prepared.
They also say that health inspectors, already overstretched from having to verify hygiene in restaurant kitchens, will struggle to enforce the new rules without new staff.
Under the law, to earn a "homemade" label, dishes must be made on the premises using "raw products" that have not been heated or substantially altered before landing in a kitchen.
But there are many caveats, and homemade doesn't necessarily mean fresh or lovingly chopped up in-house.
Products that are chilled, frozen, deep-frozen, vacuum packed, peeled, sliced, cut, minced, chopped, boned, smoked and salted can still be purchased from outside and used in a dish without disqualifying it from being "homemade".
However French fries cannot be labeled "homemade" if they are delivered frozen.
Ham, cheese, pasta, bread, puff pastry and stock for sauces can still be purchased in bulk and earn a dish the label.
In some cases a restaurant may also be able to present a dish which contains barred products as "homemade" as long as they specify the brand of the product, or the name of the producer, opening a loophole to bring in foods not made on site.
Restaurant federation UMIH acknowledged the logo only partly addressed customers' calls for better information, but called it "a first step" in promoting the savoir-faire of French cooks.
(Reporting by Natalie Huet and Chine Labbe; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)