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Jan 29, 2014 05:54 AM

Industrial Strength Restaurant Meals

FYI, from this morning's NY Times.

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  1. Wonder if Liz Alderman got the inspiration for her article on Chow France.

    6 Replies
    1. re: mangeur

      Thanks for the idea Mangeur. I posted the France Blog address to her comments site.
      Dr T comments about Metro. Here is Wikipedia info:

      1. re: UPDoc

        "Dr T comments about Metro"
        It was really my pal Randy de Paree who clued me into the amount of Metro food served here.
        But I was kind of surprised that the NYT named Metro fourth among industrial food providers and the figure of 80% of food - Yikes! Bad enough I buy frozen ice cream rather than make it myself.
        Wonder what the figure in the USofA is?

        1. re: John Talbott

          From my recent visit to a number of restos in Philly that think they're all that, I'd say a butt-load.

          1. re: Busk

            Busk: my English is rusty - what's a butt-load, what we would call in the 18th a sh**load?
            So 90%?

            1. re: John Talbott

              You got it. It's a buttload in the inner 11th.

          2. re: John Talbott

            <Wonder what the figure in the USofA is?>
            Don't know what the figure is, but every time I go to a restaurant show, there are more and more aisles of exhibitors hawking prepared foods of all types. A whole lot of "someones" must be buying that stuff. Some of it, I have to say, is excellent product. But certainly not all.

      2. The industrial food revolution also has its counter-revolution. Unfortunately, a bit like rebel groups in Syria... deeply fractured, sometimes competitive, sometimes cooperating.

        Collège Culinaire de France set up by 15 founding, mostly celebrity chefs to vet and approve restaurants of quality.

        The label "Des Produits D'Ici, Cuisinés Ici" for Ile-de-France locavore fait-maison restos. For a list (which includes lots of Chowhounds most often recommended eateries):

        The Association Française des Maîtres Restaurateurs which again approves and vets fait-maison places.

        Unfortunately, there is no reason to assume that restaurants not subscribing to any of these new "quality-control" groups are using industrial foods. But certainly common sense tells us that any 10-table bistro with more than 10 items for the main course should be avoided. The fewer the choices, the better the quality might well be adopted as a rough standard.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Parnassien

          There is also no reason to assume that homemade is generally better as industrially made. Just because the best is made on site, and the worst usually (but not always) comes from a box doesn't mean this is an indication of anything.

          France is full of bistro who rely on homemade stuff for pure cost reason, and that are very, very bad.

          Conversely, doing a proper stock, or even a puree, is in most cases better left to a logically organized, quality-controled assembly line. The alternative are the starred or starred-like restaurants (and not always): making your own chicken stock every day or your own Robuchon puree is extremely labour and time and skills consuming. No one should expect a bistro to do it and hope to pay bistro prices.

          Also, most restaurant who do it actually rely on industrial techniques such as thermomix, chiller.

          Most croissants fall into that category of having been mostly made somewhere else. They're still better than almost anywhere else in the world, while far from the high quality artisanal standards. But those are rare even among the homemade crowd.

          I think that debate is a travesty, and that the New York Times will never stop milking those French stereotypes and make butter out of them.

          1. re: souphie

            Just like everything in the world, this debate isn't black and white.

            1) There are exceptional frozen ingredients.

            2) Sometimes frozen ingredients are used to save costs.

            3) Sometimes dried or frozen ingredients are better than fresh ingredients (taste, texture, quality, etc)

            I like that in France, you can only call yourself a boulangerie if you make the dough and bake the bread on the premises. I think this concept really helps to keep the traditional French lifestyle alive. It is very easy to forget traditions in the modern world.

            I think the big question shouldn't be between fresh, dried or frozen ingredients but more so making food in store versus reheating foods made offsite.

            1. re: souphie

              "Just be yourself" is one of those oft-repeated clichés that passes as standard advice. Occasionally, I meet people whom I'm tempted to tell "don't be yourself... try somebody else for a while because the real you is pretty horrible". And it's the same for some restaurants: the meal would be vastly improved if the chef substituted industrial for fait-maison. Let's face it... Picard, Metro et al produce some really good dishes.

              1. re: souphie

                I don't think the best croissants can be made artisanaly. To get the best results, you need precise control of temperature and timing, you need to adjust everything to the state of the ingredients today, and you need to keep the environment consistent for your adjustments to take effect.

                That article is of course just silly. Of their three example foods, who makes onion soup? Pâté and boudin blanc are things generally best made by a specialist. They are, like lettuce and bread, a matter of sourcing, not things to be made in a restaurant, unless the kitchen also fancies itself a charcuterie...

                1. re: tmso

                  Who better to have precise temperature controls, have first hand knowledge of their ingredients through the senses, the artisan, or the factory? For example, the best pizzaiolos are the ones who can adjust their oven and their dough recipe to account for varying factors like humidity. Are you really saying a sysco croissant is better than a hand made one made by a skilled small scale baker?

                  I agree that that a specialist makes the best pate and sausage, but a specialist artisan, who wants to make the best product possible. A factory operation, the subject of this article, is only concerned with making the best of profits, and will cut every corner possible to get you something that resembles boudin blanc. So I am not sure you have shown why the article is "silly".

                  1. re: Thanksformutton

                    All food that is well adapted to large-scale production has economy producers and quality producers. One can find terrible pre-prepared tripes à la mode de caen, and one can find extremely high quality tripes, generally made in medium to small scale industrial kitchens.

                    Butter pastries require a sort of temperature control that bread doughs do not. A croissant requires that same control combined with two yeast rises. If you are making fewer than 500-1000 per day, you can without a doubt improve the quality and consistency of your result by simply making more. Temperature controlled rooms, quality equipment to keep hands off the dough, frequent testing and adjustment: this is industrial production.

            2. I rely on seeing someone in the kitchen with his hands on the goods. He's either cooking or really good at faking it.

              1. This one caught my attention: "Davigel's 783 million euros in sales… France, where it has 66,000 accounts."

                That seems to be a big number. And of course that's but one of the big four suppliers mentioned - Davigel, Brakes, Bonduell, and Metro.

                13 Replies
                1. re: robodog

                  The '66,000' might include schools, hospitals and other institutional venues as well as restaurants & cafes. Wonder how much 'Industrial' food is served in schools?

                  1. re: AGM_Cape_Cod

                    Plus the countless company and factory cafeterias.

                    1. re: AGM_Cape_Cod

                      Well the French folks on CH can enlighten us but I'm always impressed going by that huge "factory" in the 19th that pumps out thousans of "cantine meals" a day, largely it seems, directed to schools.

                      1. re: John Talbott

                        <<Well the French folks on CH can enlighten us but I'm always impressed going by that huge "factory" in the 19th that pumps out thousans of "cantine meals" a day>>
                        Not sure which place in the 19th you're referring to. But maybe the cuisine centrale/ central kitchen for preparing school meals on the rue Riquet in the 18th (the 19th starts just on the other side of the tracks) or another in the 20th near the Porte des Lilas. Surprisingly, the 5 or 6 central kitchens throughout Paris provide less than half the school meals. Lots of schools still have their own kitchens and cook/ assemble meals on-site. Some are operated as "solidaire" collectives to give cooking and catering experience to unskilled locals/ immigrants. Depending on arrondissement, some central kitchens have a similar "solidaire" role. (And why doesn't the English language have an easy translation for "solidaire" ? ..."socially responsible" is close but doesn't quite grab the whole meaning). Some central kitchens and the smaller collectives also prepare meals for delivery to community centres and old folks homes. BTW, lots of fresh produce (as well as some processed industrial foods) are used in both the central kitchens and in-house kitchens.

                        1. re: Parnassien

                          Does this explain why what is called pasta in Paris (and France) is so poor; because it is made in a factory?

                          No decent trattoria here in Italy would ever be caught using industrial made dishes. On the other hand, perhaps the trattorie should use industrial made dishes with regard to certain desserts, because those desserts are uniformly poor.

                          1. re: allende

                            It's a good question. More generally, why is nothing that is supposed to be Italian really good in France?

                            1. re: allende

                              I'm not sure why pasta, not normally a part of French cuisine except in the regions bordering Italy, should be singled out. And yes, most of the pasta consumed in Paris is, I suppose, factory-made but hand-made for fresh pasta aficionados is easy enough to find. Agree that most Italian restaurants in Paris are not very "decent" (and, after all, they do tend to cater to low-budget, not terribly quality-conscious locals and tourists) but some -- like Caffé dei Cioppi in the 11th, La Bocca della Verità in the 6th, La Pâte à Pâtes in the 5th, and dozens more-- are very good indeed. And, sigh, I can no longer include the recently sold Rino whose founding Italian chef had to flee hidebound Rome to create innovative and quite excellent Mediterranean Italian-rooted cuisine in Paris.

                              1. re: Parnassien

                                I would add Mori Venice Bar to te list.

                                1. re: John Talbott

                                  One of my problems is that I don't have all this fabulous free time to go on and on complaining about Chinese food in Venice. Most envious.

                                  1. re: Parigi

                                    Sorriest Parigi, despite your Italian screen name you apparently missed my reference which was to Parnassien's "Caffé dei Cioppi in the 11th, La Bocca della Verità in the 6th, La Pâte à Pâtes in the 5th, and dozens more."
                                    Mori Venice Bar does not serve Chinese food and it's not in Venice but by the Bourse.

                                    1. re: John Talbott

                                      I was not referring to you, dear JT !

                            2. re: Parnassien

                              "(the 19th starts just on the other side of the tracks) "
                              Correct again, on the Metro I'm over the tracks when I look back at it.

                              1. re: Parnassien

                                Solidarity kitchens, solidarity associations, solidarity committees, are all perfectly fine English, and are used in American English for the same things. There are still solidarity diners in some West Coast port cities, which cater to longshore B-men (who struggle to get enough hours). That this use of "solidarity" is much less wide-spread than is the exact same use of "solidaire" in French, is a social question, not one of language.

                                Slowly back on topic, non-vegetarian solidarity diners/kitchens tend to be heavy on Sysco-produced food; vegetarians ones tend to feature more home-cooked food. Pick your poison.

                        2. OK, I want to make a confession.
                          I went to Picard today as I do every week and think their stuff is terrific but when I run/walk/limp by my Metro, I really pass by fast. I think there's a difference, maybe it's just home consumption versus bad resto food, I dunno.
                          Soup, am I as neurotic (sorry DSM 4 & 5) as I think I am?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: John Talbott

                            There is some really good stuff at Metro.