Officials Investigate Illegal Secret Restaurants for French Elite
A recent documentary uncovered the prix-fixe dinners taking place in violation the country's lockdown.
Over the weekend, France announced that it would be going into lockdown for the third time, due to an increase in the number of new coronavirus cases, and the number of patients who have been admitted to intensive care units. According to the BBC, this means that all schools and non-essential retailers will close for the next four weeks, residents will have a nightly curfew from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m., and there needs to be a "valid reason" for anyone to travel more than 10 miles from their homes.
On top of this grim news, French TV network M6 aired a documentary that revealed the existence of "clandestine restaurants" in Paris that have been serving prix-fixe menus to an exclusive clientele, and the guest lists allegedly include a government minister or two. (If you just asked yourself whether restaurants are open in France, the answer is no, they've been closed since last October.)
The Associated Press reports that the meals at one of these elegantly shady restaurants ranged between €160 and €490 ($190 to $575) per person, and the set menu included truffles with foie gras, lobster in ginger sauce and—of course—a bottle of Champagne. Guests were also encouraged to remove their face masks upon arrival. "We don't wear a mask here," one restaurant staffer said. "Once you pass through the doors, covid no longer exists. We want people to feel at ease."
Pierre-Jean Chalençon, the owner of the Palais Vivienne event venue in Paris, narrated some of the undercover footage. Although his face was never shown, he was quickly identified as the guy who talked about the government ministers who'd allegedly been in attendance. After the documentary aired, Chalençon's attorney backpedaled, telling AFP that his client was only showing his "humor" and "sense of the absurd" during his voiceover.
Paris prosecutor Rémy Heitz has opened an investigation into the illegal dinners and is trying to identify everyone who attended the events—especially the ones who may work for the government. "We are looking into possible charges of endangerment and undeclared labor," a spokesperson for Heitz told CNN. "We will verify whether the gatherings were organized in violation of sanitary rules and determine who were the potential organizers and participants." (A different government spokesperson told LCI television that 200 people have already been ID-ed in connection to the meals and that they were facing "heavy punishment.")
The locked-down French residents who haven't been able to go to a restaurant for going on six months weren't exactly delighted by the documentary either. The hashtags #OnVeutLesNoms (We Want the Names) and #MangeonsLesRiches (Let's Eat the Rich) trended on Twitter, as they debated who may or may not have gotten a still-forbidden lobster dinner. While I'm sure Rémy Heitz is super at his job, I might be more afraid of the angry citizens who've dealt with three lockdowns and counting.