European Union Bans Restaurant Workers from Working at Meal Times

Dateline Brussels, April 1, 2017

The declaration that restaurant workers must have time off in the middle of the day and cannot be required to work in the evenings came as a joint announcement from the Commissioner for Health & Food Safety and the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labor Mobility. While this was unexpected, it was presented as following directly in the line of previous regulations intended to protect workers from unsocial conditions.

Background

Conditions for workers are governed by E.U. Working Time Directive 2003/88/EC. An Impact Assessment of the evolution of working time organisation concluded in December 2010 that: Working at hours which are normatively devoted to social interaction, such as on evenings and weekends, should lead to severe impairments to social well-being as well as to a reduction of time for social commitments.”[1]

The Impact Assessment was especially concerned about the results of working unusual hours: “Workers are also subjected to a desynchronization from the social rhythm of a society.” Indeeed, there was specific concern about people who had to work at interrupted periods: “Those working in rotating shifts have to work during valuable times for social interaction and participation and thus are restricted from social participation and interaction leading to substantial social impairments.”

The assessment was part of a continuing process of review of the Directive that involved consultations with interested parties. However, the Commission subsequently reported that: “Extensive talks were held throughout 2012, but no agreement was reached. Since workers’ and employers’ organisations have been unable to reach agreement, it is now up to the Commission to decide on the review of the Working Time Directive.”[2]

Today’s Directive

The E.U. has now taken the bull by the horns. It was only a small step to move from concern about working at unsocial shift times or on evenings or weekends to conclude that requiring restaurant workers to work during meal times prevents them from having social interactions over lunch or dinner. But what about disruption to the industry? “The EU has concluded that its mandate to protect workers takes precedence over concerns about any disruption to the industry.”

   
Marianne Thyssen, E.U. Commissioner, Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility Vytenis Andriukaitis, E.U. Commissioner for Health & Food Safety

The new regulations come into immediate effect, but with a transitional period during which workers may work either at lunch or at dinner but not both. When they take full effect, however, restaurants will have to find other means to prepare and serve food at unsocial times (defined as between noon and 2 p.m. and between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.). Restauranteurs have reserved comment so far, but there is concern in the drinks industry about collateral damage.


Sources

[1] European Commission DG for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Annex 1 – Study on health and safety aspects of working time, 21 December 2010.

[2] http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=706&langId=en&intPageId=205

Restaurant Review: Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

A really good bistro in some ways is of more interest to me than a Michelin starred restaurant. Of course, it’s great to eat out at the top levels, and leisurely evenings in elegant surroundings with fine food are one of my favorite pursuits, but there are many occasions when I’d like to have a more straightforward meal rather than eat at home. Arriving in London from New York, this was just such an occasion, and round the corner is Galvin Bistrot de Luxe. Opened six years ago by Chris Galvin (who used to cook at the Orrery long ago when it had a Michelin star), it has been a great success.

“De Luxe” is a fair description because it’s a far cry from bistros turning out the standard fare of roast chicken and fries. Granted the menu generally avoids more expensive ingredients: you won’t find venison or turbot here, and the meat dishes tend more to stews than filets, but I’ve never had a poor meal, and often some very good ones.

This meal we both started with the salad of beets and goat cheese, simple but well sourced, with nicely complementing flavors. (Most of the starters are cold, which seems appropriate for the bistro, although I do have a general view that once the Michelin-starred level is reached, a preponderance should be cooked on the spot. A cry should go up in the kitchen, “Lewin is here, let us cook his dinner,” rather than simply cutting a slice off something pre-prepared.)

Main courses were good with one caveat. My steamed fillets of Corsican bream, ragoût of sweet corn, courgette & saffron were simply excellent, in a  creamy sauce that would have done credit to a Michelin-starred restaurant. The fish tasted farmed rather than wild, but that’s an expected compromise at the bistro level. My wife’s pavé of cod, coco de Paimpol, trompette mushroom & Bayonne ham was successful as a composition, but slightly spoiled by gritty mushrooms that did not seem to have been properly cleaned. A blackcurrant mousse made a beautiful dessert, rather reminiscent in taste and texture of summer pudding, but smoother, with a  thin layer of underlying fruit.

Prices are very fair, especially allowing for the breadth of the wine list, which extends from decent choices at just over £20 to quite grand wines at vastly higher prices. In many ways, I think the measure of a restaurant wine list is more what it offers at the lower end than the higher end. Anyone can buy in the top Bordeaux or Burgundy if they are prepared to spend the money, but it takes knowledge and effort to find something good at the bottom end.

Apropos of stars, by the way, I’m far from the only person who finds Michelin’s awards to be erratic at the one star level.  Their original list of one star restaurants in New York was something of a joke, and the present London list is rather variable, to put it kindly. Galvin Bistrot is in that useful category I would give a three quarter star – but that said, it is significantly better than some one-starred restaurants in London that I’ve given up on.

Daumas Gassac at Eleven Madison Park

Bordeaux certainly remains the dominant paradigm for wines based on Cabernet Sauvignon, and its model has been pretty much adapted in the New World where often enough a little Merlot is blended in, but I found myself wondering about the potential of less conventional regions when I was faced with trying to find an older wine on the list at the restaurant Eleven Madison Park in New York. At this Michelin-starred restaurant, chef Daniel Humm has introduced a positively Spartan style of printed menu, with options for each course described in single words – artichoke, potato, tuna, langoustine, for example – requiring a good deal of amplification in order to decide on food let alone matching it with wine. This gives him quite a bit of freedom to introduce daily changes, inspired by the market in Union Square- just four blocks away – which he told me the chefs visit almost every day.

The wine list is lengthy and in some respects quite old fashioned – by which I means lots of half bottles, something you don’t see much any more – and very strong on Burgundy and also Bordeaux. My problem with restaurant lists is that I find current vintages can be a little too powerful for the food, especially when it has the subtlety of a restaurant like Eleven Madison Park, but older vintages can be rare and rather expensive. We decided that a single bottle of red wine would be the thing to accompany our chosen menu – tuna, lobster, chicken to follow Danny Humm’s sparse descriptions (the killer course was the lobster, which was described as a lasagne but turned out to be more of an open ravioli) – but I was struggling a bit with the relatively recent vintages of Burgundy and Bordeaux when I came across a vertical selection of Mas de Daumas Gassac, with vintages back to 1982. Having enjoyed the relatively recent vintages of 2008 and 2006 at restaurants in London and Bruges this summer, I thought a really older vintage would be very interesting.

Mas de Daumas Gassac, of course, was established by Aimé Guibert in the Languedoc, where, advised by the famous enologist Emile Peynaud, he found suitably protected climate and terroir at Aniane to plant Cabernet Sauvignon. As Cabernet Sauvignon is banned in the local AOCs, the wine is bottled under the lowly designation of Vin de Pays d’Herault, and Aimé marched to the beat of his own drum, blending the dominant Cabernet  (on average around 80% of the wine) with an unusual mix of ten other varieties, including both Bordeaux varieties (Merlot, Malbec), Languedoc varieties (Syrah, Grenache), and others (Pinot Noir). The vineyards are as distinctive as the wine. Last time I visited, Samuel Guibert took us on a bumpy ride in a Land Rover through a series of vineyards, each located in its own terroir, surrounded by the garrigue (local scrub and forest). There’s a great emphasis here on the natural environment, which was part of the background to l’Affaire Mondavi, when Aimé led the fight against the establishment of a large scale winery in the vicinity.

Anyway, I haven’t had  any vintage preceding the 1990s recently, so I asked the sommelier at Eleven Madison for advice about the older vintages. She thought the 1982 might be drying out just a little, but recommended the 1983 as still lively with a slightly perfumed quality. This turned out to be fair advice and a good description. The wine was a deep color with an intriguing nose showing more the perfume than the herbal quality of the garrigue surrounding the vineyards, and it showed little signs of tiring. The structure of Cabernet Sauvignon is in the background, but the general impression is quite a bit softer than Bordeaux. I was surprised by the lack of much tertiary development on this bottle, and there were certainly none of the slightly herbaceous overtones you might expect to have developed in a Bordeaux, but the wine has matured to a beautiful balance with the fruits showing nicely complex layers of flavor. It turned out to be a perfect accompaniment to the menu.

The interest of this bottle led me to wonder about aging potential in general and how the effect of vintage manifest themselves in the Languedoc compared with the extremes of Bordeaux. I’m planning to look for bottles for a vertical tasting, back to the first vintage of 1978 if possible. Incidentally, since the vineyards were first planted in 1974, the 1983 vintage is all the more impressive in coming from relatively young vines. In the meantime, I may just have to go back to Eleven Madison Park and try some of their other old vintages while they last on the list.

Recent Tastings of Mas de Daumas Gassac Rouge

2008   This is an elegant wine with Cabernet Sauvignon represented in a lighter style. Fresh on the nose and palate with a slight spiciness and some aromatic complexity. The Cabernet is identified by notes of cedar, with  lively fruits on the palate showing a faint savory touch of the garrigue. For the south this is a restrained style. Good variety of flavors across the palate are supported by an unobtrusive structure with tannins well in the background.  88 Drink now-2018.

2006  Nose shows fresh red fruits and a touch of nuts with intimations of complexity. Elegant fruits on the palate, following the red spectrum of the nose. There’s a touch of savory influence from the garrigue. Opening up in the glass, the wine shows its delicacy, yet with the fine structure and tannic support of Cabernet. It brings back memories of some of the more delicate older vintages of Bordeaux. 90 Drink now-2017.

1983   Still a fairly dark color. An intriguing slightly floral note on the nose, almost a whiff of violets à la Margaux, conveying a vague sense of garrigue but one that is more floral than herbal. The ripeness of the fruits is evident on the palate, giving a kick of sweetness to the finish. Black fruits on the palate show more as blackberries than blackcurrants, but with a fleshiness on the mid palate, presumably from the Merlot and Syrah. Still youthfully vibrant, and I’m struck by the warm tones of the palate with chocolaty hints on the finish. Age has brought a definite softness rather than the savory development that’s common in Bordeaux. 92 Drink now-2016.