Les Saveurs du Palais (Haute Cuisine)
Director: Christian Vincent
Haute Cuisine is based on the true story of Danièle Delpeuch and how she was appointed as the private chef for François Mitterrand. And now the warning: eat before you see the film, bring snacks, or rush off to a superb restaurant afterwards, because this film is a long string of mouthwatering shots of French cuisine at its most resplendent.
Haute Cuisine stars Catherine Frot as Hortense, a virtuoso in back-to-basics French cuisine, who to her astonishment is called on by the president (Jean d’Ormesson) to take over his private kitchens, much to the chagrin of the existing Elysée chef. She’s a strong woman who can usually lay down the law, but comes up against hefty doses of sexism, incredulity and scorn.
She rattles cages, bemuses her sous chef with her crème mémé and upsets the palatial apple cart by sourcing produce from her own address book. Despite acquiring the nickname ‘La du Barry’ (after Louis XV’s official mistress) it is clear that the special connection between Hortense and President Mitterand filmed during their brief encounters is based on nothing more than a deep-shared passion for simple, traditional cuisine.
Increasingly, however, Hortense’s creativity is stinted by the constraints of palatial protocol, the President’s declining health and the Palace’s budgetary cuts. She seeks to please the President at every opportunity, like a child vying for his attention and only occasionally being rewarded with a peep through closed doors, a note of approval, or a plate scraped clean.
Director, Christian Vincent cleverly adds depth to the film by refocusing the narrative on Hortense, the person, instead of Hortense, the President’s chef. A well-balanced story, audiences are sure to walk away with a smile, not to mention quite an appetite.