Haute Cuisine

Haute Cuisine


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Christian Vincent's Haute Cuisine, based on the true story of Danièle Delpeuch, personal chef to former French President François Mitterand, expertly opens up the doors to the kitchens of 55, Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, where Monsieur le Président de la République (played by Jean d'Ormesson) resides.

We start out on ocean waves, during the last day of the Antarctic mission chef Hortense Laborie (Catherine Frot) is on. She accepted this remote assignment, after cooking for the president of France. At the heels of an Australian camera team we stalk her persistently for an interview, although she bluntly refuses. A curious choice as a frame for the flashbacks, the contrast doesn't really work, because life in the palace and the fights between the two rival kitchens are far more interesting. The chronological flashbacks begin with an oblivious Hortense being picked up in the Périgord, to cook for "someone" in the government - the house number 55 means nothing to the self contained, strong-willed country chef.

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Meant as a possible symbolic reference to Laborie's preference for the cruel fois gras, or as a style statement of the real-life presidential chef, Frot wears knotted necklaces, usually more than one, tightly around her neck. The chokers remain a part of her outfits from the palace to the end of the world.

The president wants home cooking. He likes it simple, hates sugar roses and all the superfluous decoration they represent, and used to read old-fashioned cook books as a little boy in the Loire region. She is not allowed to go to the market to choose the produce herself. He endears himself to Hortense when at the first lunch she prepares for him, we learn that he eats the carrot top. Any wise bird can tell you about it. The scene unfolds a bit like the one in Ernst Lubitsch's Angel (1937), where we learn about Marlene Dietrich's husband and lover and their states of mind, solely via the plates of food as they are returned to the kitchen.

At first only a mysterious presence, Hortense soon meets the powerful world leader who loves mushrooms and soups. Over baked wonders and grandma's recipes, she conspires with the president, and is called du Barry by the envious chefs. The film leaves the rumour as rumour and yet, brings up the comparison to the maîtresse of Louis XV a few times. During one of their little chats, the president tells Hortense that he knows the male chefs are making life hard for her. "Adversity keeps me going," he encourages, while he savours buttered toasted bread topped with generous slices of fresh black truffles and a glass of red wine, in the Élysée kitchen at night.

The logistics of the kitchen are daunting and the colleagues in the much bigger official palace kitchen are jealous, macho and vindictive. She wants cheese cloth? She needs to put plates of fresh oysters in their fridge, because the president and his guests are delayed? No such luck, lady.

Hortense is given some good tips, should you ever work in the Élysée Palace. Hippolyte Girardot plays David Azoulay, a fighting fit functionary who is one of several officeholders to explain the rules of the game. Sharpen your sense of direction and say hello to everyone you meet - you'll never know which head of state might have got lost on the sprawling premises.

The presentation of the food in Haute Cuisine is truly mouthwatering. I plan on baking salmon in cabbage leaves this weekend. Watching the movie, I had vivid flashbacks to my childhood and the joy of discovering little nests of cèpes and chanterelles nestled around trees among mossy patches in the forest.

Haute Cuisine is as earth shattering as a lip-smacking mushroom - you will want to have a good dinner afterwards.

Reviewed on: 09 Apr 2013
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Drama based on the real-life story of the personal chef to former French president François Mitterand.

Director: Christian Vincent

Writer: Etienne Comar, Christian Vincent, Danièle Mazet-Delpeuch

Starring: Catherine Frot, Arthur Dupont, Jean d'Ormesson, Hippolyte Girardot, Jean-Marc Roulot, Philippe Uchan

Year: 2012

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: France


Tribeca 2013

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