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:
The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais (movie adaptation coming out in August, 2014)