My first entry for the Paris In July 2014 blogging event is a review of the 2012 French film Haute Cuisine (original name Les Saveurs du Palais, which can be translated as ‘The Taste of the Palace’ or ‘The Taste of the Palate’)
The film begins with scenes on the remote Crozet Island in Antarctica, at the Alfred Faure Scientific Base. The cook, Hortense Laborie (Catherine Frot), is preparing dinner for the dozens of workers there. It’s a special occasion, her own farewell dinner. This is the menu she has prepared:
- Thai clear soup with fresh foie gras
- Sweet and sour duck with Sarlat potatoes
- Saint-Honoré cake
Not your ordinary cafeteria food for workers in Antarctica, but then, Hortense Laborie is no ordinary cook. If her one year gig working on the Crozet island sounds extraordinary, it is yet not as remarkable when compared to her previous job. Hortense was the personal chef of the French president (Jean d’Ormesson) for two years before she quit and sought a change in venue for her talents. Her kitchen used to be in the Élysée Palace in Paris, the official residence of the French President.
Haute Cuisine is a movie based on the real-life story of Danièle Delpeuch, a Périgord farmer and renowned country cook appointed by the Palace Élysée to be the personal chef for French President François Mitterrand in 1988. She was responsible for preparing home-made, simple cooking for the President’s own private meals and his personal guests.
In the movie, as soon as she stepped into the Palace’s Main Kitchen Hortense knows what she is up against: a macho army of 24 all-male chefs who guard their territory like a castle. They serve 70,000 meals in a year, using some of the copper pots and pans dating back to Louis-Phillippe’s days. Hortense does not work right in that kitchen, but that is her source of supplies and ingredients (initially), and the battlefield for territory and sphere of culinary power and influence. The battle begins as soon as she steps on this holy ground.
Hortense works in a small, homely kitchen joined by a tunnel with the Main Kitchen. Her helper is a young pastry chef Nicholas Bauvois (Arthur Dupont). The two form an unlikely alliance and share an endearing camaraderie. Frot’s portrayal of Hortense is most amiable. She is not a harsh boss over Nicholas, but she can stand her ground and be assertive in front of the Main Kitchen chefs, and even with the President’s staff. Hortense is an iron fist inside an elegant, velvet glove.
So from the kitchen in Antarctica to Paris, the film goes back and forth to tell the story of Hortense, how she gets the Palace job and why she quits two years later. The shifting between the two time frames are smooth and seamless. With the two drastically different settings juxtaposed against each other, viewers can savour the irony: That the exquisite culinary skills and fine art of Hortense’ cooking are more appreciated by the Crozet Island workers than the Palace Élysée.
A delightful movie not just for foodies, Haute Cuisine is like a layer cake, blending multiple tastes together by tackling various issues of contention… the battle between the sexes in the work place (the kitchen is probably the most volatile), efficiency in meal preparation vs. passion for cooking, and, the dilemma of all food lovers: gratification or health (no sauces, fats, or cheeses? How can that be in French cuisine?)
A well crafted film that moves as efficiently as an experienced server, removing your empty plate as soon as the food is consumed, quietly slips in the next item for you to enjoy without a break. Yes, it’s relatively fast-paced, lean and fat-free with no wastage; to top it all off, the delightful, well-timed and orchestrated music composed by the prolific Gabriel Yared is like the light cream on the Saint-Honoré cake.
The President deeply appreciates Hortense’s home-grown culinary offerings. Her ingredients are locally grown right from the Palace garden,or nearby markets, or from her own farm, yes, truffles too. The tastes remind him of home when he was growing up as a boy. He has found a foodie soul-mate in Hortense. Here’s her first meal for him and his five guests (with two hours’ notice as to the number of guests):
- Brouillade with ceps and chervil
- Stuffed cabbage with Scottish Salmon and Loire carrots (“I like things to come from somewhere”)
- Saint-Honoré (her Granny’s recipe)
But I personally like this one the best:
- Cream of asparagus soup with chervil
- Fillet of beef (pastry wrapped) with Chanterelle Fricassee
- Cream tart with fruit of the forest and pistachio nougatines
A virtual meal, so delicious and satisfying… and best of all, fat-free.
~ ~ ~ Ripples
This is my first post for the blogging event Paris in July, 2014.
This year the hosting team has expanded to four. From the original creators Karen and Tamara, we now have Adria and Bellezza. Thanks to their time and dedication, we can travel to France on a virtual flight, no need for tickets, no baggages to drag along.
Also discovered another similar blogging event and that’s a Monday Meme Dreaming of France from Paulita’s An Accidental Blog. The more the merrier I’d say.
Click Here to the New York Times’s profile of Danièle Delpeuch, the real-life personality on whom the movie is based.
Other Food Related Posts on Ripple Effects, coincidentally, all Paris-related:
Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery
The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais (movie adaptation coming out in August, 2014)
27 thoughts on “Haute Cuisine Movie Review”
Well, now I am hungry! I haven’t heard of this film but it sounds so good. I can’t imagine being the only woman chef in that group of men. Would definitely be a challenge. I love that her meals showcase the local ingredients, too.
It’s a French film released in 2012, shown in many European countries. It has not widely screened in N. America, only in Film Festivals. But you can try finding it on Netflix. The actress Catherine Frot got 2 deserving nominations for Best Actress in France. You’ll enjoy it.
Arti, what a mouth watering review! I swear I want to eat that whole plate of beef pictured at the end, and what a fascinating story of a chef which accompanies it. I definitely want to rent this as soon as possible. You tell me of the finest films! Thanks for this great review (I’m so tired of typical Hollywood stories and actors).
First off, thanks for hosting Paris in July this year. I’d enjoyed it tremendously back in 2012. I have a few items in mind. Yes, this is a delicious movie, not only for foodies but I like how it touches on several relevant issues, albeit the real-life story happened back in the 80’s. You’re right, the summer season just may not be the best time to savour more exquisite film offerings. This French film is a nice summer breeze… a special treat.
This is on my list for the weekend…. thank you for the review (which I wont read in detail until after I’ve seen the movie). I am just loving my focus on french food in this years Paris in July, so this was a definite to watch. I am not going to loose weight this month while I’m ready, watching and therefore craving french food!
Thanks for hosting Paris In July. It’s a fun way to go on a virtual tour… the blogger playing the tour guide as well. Yes, by all means, watch it (find it on Netflix) and then come back and share with us what you think. 😉
Sounds like an enjoyable film and Hortense sounds like quite a woman. I always find gender kitchen issues so fascinating. In a private home it is women who are expected to be in the kitchen cooking but toss out the title of chef and make it paid work for the president of France and suddenly the kitchen is man territory. Thanks for the fun review!
You’re right. ‘Woman’s place is in the home kitchen’ only. Here Hortense is the only personal chef for the President. All the others in the Main Kitchen are not… therein lies the conflict. Her kitchen is homely, with amber lighting, the other one is your sanitized commercial kitchen, bright with white light. She likes to be called by her first name, not ‘chef’. Check this one out with Bookman, you’ll like it. 😉
But you know, that isn’t so much the way it is here in Texas. Men do a good bit of the cooking, and not only barbeque. In Louisiana, too, the men make fabulous gumbos, game dishes, fish. Perhaps it’s that, through the area’s history, men had so often been in situations — driving cattle, trapping, fishing offshore — where any enjoyment they were going to get from their meals was up to them.
Especially in the cruising community, men and women split cooking responsibilities just as they share standing watch. Everyone has their skills, of course, and not everyone is a skilled chef, but in the worlds where I move, I don’t know a guy who can’t turn out a passable meal.
Of course, my worlds are as far removed from the world as this film as can be!
Arti, This sounds great. Wish I could find it. I have The Hundred Foot Journey to read while my son has his wisdom teeth out this morning. My friend and blogger Sally Tharpe Rowles lives in the village where they filmed The Hundred Foot Journey.
How cool is that! Sally can watch the filming from her window. 😉 I look forward to the film adaptation of The Hundred Foot Journey. Since you’re reading the book, you might be interested to check out my review, which I posted for Paris In July back in 2012. Thanks for stopping by Ripple Effects.
That sounds really interesting! I will have to check it out… Food is such a major part of French culture and there are so many great facts to be found in these sorts of stories!
And best of all, the movie is a sort of biopic based on a real person. Danièle Delpeuch’s story is extraordinary. I understand she is in her 70’s now and had written a book about her life and yes, recipes included. Still very active, promoting her book now. Since you’re in France, I’d be most curious to know what you think of the movie as an insider. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment. 😉
What a great review. I found a DVD of this movie last year, but haven’t got to watching it yet. I didn’t know about the Antarctica story as well- I have a fascination with both Antarctica and France. I’ll have to get to it soon.
Thanks, Louise. Interesting that this movie settings are both your faves. Actually the Corzet Islands in Antarctica are French, among other areas in that Continent. Wonderful that you have the DVD right in your home. You just may have the bonus special features which I wasn’t able to watch on Netflix.
How could this film not be a winner, with both France and food as themes?!
Here’s my Paris in July post: The Perfect Meal!
Yes, double the enjoyment. 😉
Big sigh. You know/knew I would simply adore this! And I do! I like the idea of juxtaposing the two locations to help tell the story and reveal even more in terms of character. And the food presentation — oh, I have to find this one!
You’ll love this one. 😉
Thanks for joining in with Dreaming of France. I’m still looking for this movie. Here’s my Dreaming of France meme
My pleasure, and thanks for hosting Dreaming of France. I watched Haute Cuisine on Netflix.
This sounds like such a fun film. I wish the DVD over here were a bit cheaper (£19!). I’ll be keeping my eyes open for a bargain copy to come along!
That’s a hefty sum to pay for a DVD. Maybe your area public library might have it? Hope you’ll have the chance to savour it soon. 😉
This sounds like a wonderful movie. I always like movies with Catherine Frot – she has a unique acting style. I also wanted to take this moment to thank you for recommending The Lunch Box a while back. It finally came out on DVD where I live and I watched it with my family. We absolutely loved it. I will watch it again.
I agree with you absolutely about Catherine Frot’s ‘unique acting style’. I believe this is my first film of hers and I was totally attracted by her performance. I must see more of her films. And glad that you’ve enjoyed The Lunchbox. Irrfan Khan is the ubiquitous and versatile actor. I appreciate it very much that you’ve come back to share your thoughts after watching the film. It’s most gratifying for me. Hope you’ll enjoy Haute Cuisine too. 😉
A more general comment than the one I left above. I love true stories, well told, and it sounds as though this is one I’d like. The contrast between such different worlds is delightful to contemplate. I’ve got it on my list – for a day when I can find some time, and find the film, both at once!