Riot police fired tear gas at a crowd of egg-throwing chefs today in a stinging reply to demands that the French government lift a 20.6 percent tax on restaurant meals.

More than 1,000 protesters wearing white aprons and the tall white hats of the classic French kitchen marched to the National Assembly to press their case with legislators. Well-provisioned chefs immediately began pelting helmet-clad security forces with eggs and assorted vegetables.

After seven or eight minutes of messy abuse, police fired tear gas into the crowd.

Coughing and crying as he stumbled from the melee, a chef from Brittany named Victor spluttered: "See what their answer is? See how much they care about the little guys?"

Many of the protesting cooks carried signs denouncing the inequality of the restaurant tax code: 20.6 for classic French restaurants but only 5.5 percent for fast-food and takeout establishments such as McDonald's.

Restaurant owners and chefs argue that the tax policy subsidizes massive global food businesses and undermines the traditional French restaurateur. A restaurant tab in France is swollen by more than a third when the tax and obligatory service charge are included.

Some of the protesters said today that a reduction in the tax to 10 or 12 percent could create thousands of jobs in the hurting restaurant business. The Finance Ministry has said such a move could cost the government more than $3 billion.

After they were dispersed, the chefs regrouped a few blocks away to select representatives to deliver petitions to parliament, which is due to begin debating the 2000 budget next week.

CAPTION: French chefs wearing their traditional white aprons and tall hats confront police in Paris during a protest over a tax on meals in better restaurants.

CAPTION: A police officer is covered with flour and eggs during a protest by chefs who want a 20.6 percent tax lifted.