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Fouquet's fowl falls foul of the food flics

A PARIS court yesterday fined the former manager of Fouquet's, the restaurant at 99 Avenue des Champs-Elysees, 40,000 francs ( pounds 4,500) for a menu of gastronomic sins including serving frozen food billed as fresh.

Maurice Msellatti, who twice saved the prestigious site on the corner of the Avenue George V from developers and had Fouquet's classified as a historical monument, reacted with Gallic disdain: 'What is this campaign to destroy the flower of French gastronomy?' - the blazer-clad Mr Msellatti fulminated once the short hearing was over. He was, however, spared the greatest humiliation the court could have ordered: paying for publication of the judgment in the national press.

Mr Msellatti's troubles began in July 1992 when a fraud squad inspector and a sergeant checked the kitchens against the menu. One item was 'cheese from the farm'. The policemen discovered bills from a Paris wholesaler. Only the goat's cheese came direct from the producer. Mr Msellati protested that the Paris-bought products were intended for staff lunches, not for elegant, well-heeled clients who pay up to Fr500 a head.

Dismissing this explanation as 'classically banal', Nicolas Blot, the prosecutor, called for a Fr40,000-50,000 fine for that offence.

Still more lurid were complaints about hygiene. The policemen said they had seen 'adult-size' cockroaches in the crockery storage areas and flies crawling over unpeeled potatoes. Mr Msellati blamed them on the cleaning company responsible for hygiene. The flies were 'preferable to insecticides' and 'there are always flies around potatoes in July'.

Finally, the freezer contained three packets of foie gras and a tuna. Mr Msellatti said an employee had put the foie gras there on his own initiative; to cut the thin slices necessary for a carpaccio of tuna the fish had to be hardened by freezing.

In March, Mr Msellatti's wife, who took over running the restaurant in August 1992, will appear to explain how Poulet de Bresse and yet more foie gras happened to be in the freezer during another swoop.