French bread
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.Reuters

The French government is forcing restaurants to distinguish between meals that are "homemade" and meals that have been brought in and merely reheated in a bid to save the nation's culinary reputation.

Tourists visiting France this summer will spot a new logo on menus – a pan with a roof-shaped lid – designed to flag up when food has truly been cooked from scratch on the premises.

The government hopes the measure, which is the first of its kind in Europe, will encourage chefs to prepare more fresh, cooked-from-scratch dishes and rejuvenate the standing of French gastronomy around the world.

French consumers estimated, last October, that around half of restaurant meals were homemade, but the Union of Hotel Skills and Industries claim that 85% of restaurants secretly make use of frozen or vacuum-packed food.

The new legislation applies to all eateries and fast food restaurants but also to caterers and outdoor food stalls. Any restaurant missing the logo, which came into force this week, could be fined starting from next January.

"We chose to represent 'homemade' with a logo so that foreign tourists could understand it," says a government spokesperson.

"French gastronomy represents 13.5% of foreign tourists' expenses and it's undeniable that if we add value to the quality of our restaurants, it will have an impact on tourism."

Some commentators and chefs have criticised the legislation, arguing that the new rules are too confusing to meet their objectives – i.e. to give the customer more information on the food they eat and how it was prepared.

Under the new law, French fries cannot be labelled homemade if they are delivered frozen. However, products that are chilled, frozen, deep-frozen, vacuum-packed, peeled, sliced, minced, chopped, boned, smoked and salted can still be purchased from outside and used in a dish without disqualifying it from being homemade.