A French senator is tabling a proposal to protect the country’s top regional dishes “like works of literature, music or art” and stop restaurants or food companies from doctoring recipes beyond recognition for financial gain.
Alexandra Borchio-Fontimp, conservative senator for the Alpes-Maritimes, from the Republicans Party, is teaming up with a group of intellectual property lawyers and chefs to propose ring-fencing traditional recipes but also new kitchen creations with the aim of promoting “French culinary art”.
France’s gastronomic meal has already been singled out as a Unesco world heritage treasure and the country has a draconian appellation system for wine and cheese. However, individual recipes are not protected by any French laws.
However, guardians of traditional French dishes see red when green beans – which locals view as illegitimate interlopers – are added to salade niçoise, the famed Riviera dish served with hard-boiled eggs, anchovies and olives.
They are unhappy when flamiche, a leek pie dish from Picardy, is stuffed with camembert when only cream will do – and their hackles are raised when yuzu is mixed into teurgoule, Normandy’s age-old baked rice budding served with a bun.
‘You call your salad something else!’
“French gastronomy plays an important part in our country’s international standing,” said Ms Borchio-Fontimp in a message to the culture minister last month calling for action.
“Indeed, culinary recipes demonstrate French diversity and wealth and should be protected just like artistic or musical creations.”
She warned: “However, current legal texts don’t seem to frame the protection of culinary recipes in an adequate and suitable system.”
That left “traditional recipes open to being doctored” and new culinary creations being copied by “unscrupulous rivals”.
“Certain restaurateurs and food industry groups exploit the popularity of dishes like salade niçoise to get around the (traditional) recipe,” she told Le Figaro. “Is it because certain ingredients are too expensive?” she asked. “In that case, you call your salad something else!”
“In any case, mucking about with the contents of these dishes to make money is disdainful to regions and all those restaurateurs who do make the effort to respect cuisine. France, our départements, is made up of a multitude of local identities that must be protected,” she said.
‘Official register’ of protected recipes
She has teamed up with two associations – Toqualoi and the Cuisine niçoise collective – to call for action.
They propose drawing up an “official register” of protected recipes. “To have the right to put them on your menu, a restaurateur must respect their historic ingredients,” said Thimothée Fringans-Ozanne, a Lyon-based lawyer and president of Toqualoi.
As for new culinary creations with their own “unique signature”, these could be protected via a system of “classic intellectual property rights” that ward against counterfeiting, said Ms Borchio-Fontimp.
The next step is to propose a “clear, precise and efficient legal framework” and then table a draft law that will help promote the French culinary arts”, she said, adding that the idea enjoyed widespread political support.