Parisian cafés are a cherished part of French culture. Here’s why they might be in trouble | CNN (2024)

Parisian cafés are a cherished part of French culture. Here’s why they might be in trouble | CNN (1)

Paris is known for its culinary scene, but half the chefs and kitchen staff in the city are from outside the EU.

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Located on the famous Rue Bretagne – known as one of the best bar streets in Paris – the terrace of Le Pinardier is always busy on summer evenings.

It’s a quintessentially French experience - regulars ordering the wines of the day alongside cheese and charcuterie - but one only made possible by one of the most divisive issues in the country right now: immigration.

At Le Pinardier, those food orders from the sunny terrace quickly end up 70 feet away, in the kitchen, in the hands of 24-year-old chef, Sazal Saha.

Originally from the city of Kuhlna in Bangladesh, Saha is in his fifth year at Le Pinardier after training in catering for two years at the Joliet-Curie School in northern France.

He’s typically the only person working in the kitchen, which means he does everything: buying the produce, preparing ingredients, cooking, washing the dishes and cleaning.

“Managing the kitchen is not easy when you’re working alone,” Saha told CNN. “It’s so complicated, sometimes I get tired, but I’m used to it,” he said with a smile.

“When I first moved to France, I didn’t know anything about cheese, but I know almost everything about them now,” he said.

One key reason behind Saha’s decision to become a cook in the French capital is because he saw the huge demand from the industry.

A job French people don’t want?

Parisian cafés are a cherished part of French culture. Here’s why they might be in trouble | CNN (2)

Sazal Saha, originally from Bangladesh, is the sole cook at this Parisian wine bar.

Across France and especially in Paris, hospitality is one of the industries that is most heavily reliant on immigrant workers.

Roughly 25% of the cooks in France are immigrants from outside of the European Union, the then French Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt told Europe 1 radio at the beginning of 2024.

Half of the 86,000-plus chefs in the French capital are immigrants, according to data published by the French National Institute of Statistic and Economic Studies in 2022. They’re the main force supporting the gastronomic landscape of the French capital, feeding and delighting tourists from across the globe.

“Most of the people working in kitchens [in Paris] are either from Bangladesh or Sri Lanka,” said Florian Mousson, owner of Le Pinardier.

Born and raised in a family of generations of restaurant owners in the southern city of Marseille, Mousson believes that his business would not survive without immigrant workers.

Yet, in this month’s French parliamentary elections, which enters a second round vote this weekend, anti-immigration sentiment is seen as one of the factors driving the popularity of far-right party Rassemblement National (National Rally).

In Paris, kitchen workers are mostly originally from South Asia, like Saha. In Mousson’s hometown Marseille and many places in the south of France, restaurants and bars rely on immigrants from the Comoros, a former French colony in the Indian Ocean.

“It’s a tough job. You work standing up, you work evenings and weekends, you put in long hours, and it’s very hot in the kitchen. Often in Paris, the kitchens are very small, so it’s a very strenuous job,” Mousson said.

“There are fewer and fewer French people who are willing to do this job,” he added.

He hired Saha shortly after he opened Le Pinardier in 2019, making contact through a website called Leboncoin, the French version of Craigslist. Mousson says that he’s not only a good cook, but a tough worker and – more importantly – a team player.

Some might argue that restaurant owners prefer to hire immigrants because they cost less, but for Mousson that is not the case.

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“I don’t care if my cook is French or a foreigner. But when you put out an ad looking for a chef, for every eight or nine foreign CVs you receive, you get one French CV, so even statistically speaking you’re more likely to hire a foreigner,” he said.

Saha earns a good salary due to the long hours he has to work. Mousson says that it’s not low salaries that dictate who works in the kitchen; it’s whether the person has the sticking power for such a demanding position.

Mousson’s first chef was French. But she resigned after only three days because she wanted a job where she can solely focus on cooking and not do the rest of the job – cleaning the kitchen, cleaning dishes and all the rest.

“For a small business like us, we cannot afford to hire multiple people in the kitchen,” Mousson said.

‘I’m a little worried’

Parisian cafés are a cherished part of French culture. Here’s why they might be in trouble | CNN (4)

Paris food-workers are concerned that far-right policies will collapse the industry.

Saha likes Paris. Over the past five years, cooking for Parisians and tourists has allowed him to buy an apartment in a suburb and make a living in the French capital. But now the looming possibility of the far right coming to power is keeping him up at night.

“I am a little worried. I believe their decision is not correct,” he said, referring to the immigration policies and rhetoric he saw on TV the weekend before.

National Rally won a record 33.15% of the vote, leading the race following the first round of French parliamentary elections on June 30, according to data published by the French Interior Ministry.

VENICE, ITALY - AUGUST 01: A large crowd of tourists stand on Rialto bridge on August 1, 2017 in Venice, Italy. Over 30 million tourists visit the 3 mile by 2 mile city of Venice each year with residents fearing that it can no longer cope with this volume of visitors. There have been complaints about tourists bad behaviour including selfies being taking in areas where photography is prohibited, loitering on bridges, swimming in the canal and picnics in public places, all of which now carry a fine. In an effort to avoid UNESCO placing Venice on their endangered list the city has announced new measures to preserve and protect the city. (Photo by Stefano Mazzola/Awakening/Getty Images) Stefano Mazzola/Awakening/Getty Images Related article A weaker dollar, skyrocketing prices and ‘record’ visitor numbers: Good luck in Europe this summer

While it remains to be seen if the party can capture an absolute majority in the French National Assembly, it will almost certainly become the biggest force in the new parliament.

Running on a “France first” agenda, National Rally is calling for much stricter control on immigration, both legal and illegal. It also wants to give French citizens preferential treatment in the social welfare system.

“We are here, we are not doing bad things, we are working here, we are paying taxes, we are paying everything like all French people,” Saha said.

“Why are they making decisions that are so hard on immigration? I don’t understand.”

But this doesn’t stop him from looking forwards to his future life in France, a country that he loves.

“I am proud to work in a French restaurant. I like it. I love it,” he said.

Parisian cafés are a cherished part of French culture. Here’s why they might be in trouble | CNN (2024)
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