Provincial cook and truffle specialist Hortense Laborie (Christine Frot) is summoned to the Elysee Palace of President François Mitterand (Jean d'Ormesson) to take charge of his private kitchen - to ensure he got home cooking. Hortense encounters frosty French resistance (and jealousy) in the Main Kitchen, and little by way of appreciation from the aloof palace people. She remains on the job for two years, before resigning and taking a one year contract as cook at a South Antarctic base, where she earns the love and admiration of the staff.
Review by Louise Keller:
I love films about food, cooking and the passion that goes with them. This story, based on the true story of a French Chef from Périgord (the home of fois gras and truffles), who becomes the President's personal Chef in the Élysée Palace, is complex and rich with flavours. Not only from the delectable food she creates, but also from the politics, processes and personalities she encounters. The French are notoriously passionate about food and director Christian Vincent, who together with Etienne Comar, penned the screenplay from Danièle Mazet-Delpeuch's story about her time cooking for President Mitterand, clearly has that passion. Haute Cuisine captures a boisterous sense of life at the Palace, depicting the structured formalities, the conflicts and the relationships. Above all, the film conveys the essence of a strong woman whose love for the land, its produce and the creation of good food, is an inspiration in itself.
It is hard not to ooh and aah as we watch Catherine Frot, perfectly cast as the down-to-earth Hortense Laborie, creating mushroom broth, cabbage stuffed with salmon, snail stew, rack of lamb, boeuf en croute and the famous St Honoré pastry with cream like Granny used to make in the President's kitchen. It is the events that lead up to Hortense's arrival at the Presidential Palace at 55 Rue du Faubourg in the 8th Paris arrondissement of St Honoré however, that make these foodie delights even more fascinating. When she arrives at the Palace, there are plenty of rules to follow, but surprisingly there is no mention of food or what the President actually likes to eat. She makes it her business to find out - and as she gets to know the President, discovers they share a passion for recipe books and simple food.
The storytelling is flawed, however. Despite the relevance of the Antarctica setting, from where the story is told in flashback, the leapfrogging back and forth is confusing. Hortense is about to cook her final meal for the appreciative men living at the Antarctic scientific base; there is a stark contrast between the crude facilities there and the grand Élysée Palace, where the atmosphere is as chilled as the oysters. This is the least successful part of the film. Our interest lies mainly in Hortense's experiences at the Palace, as she struggles to create the dishes of her choice, using produce from her own suppliers. They did not deserve her; that's for sure.
Haute Cuisine is like a scrumptious slice of pastry - there's enough to stimulate the taste buds but not enough to satisfy the appetite. That scene late at night, in which Hortense makes the President a snack of fresh truffles sliced on toast, served with a good glass of red wine is the exception.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Haute Cuisine is more a people movie than a movie for foodies, although foodies will get several thrills as we see delicious meals prepared. What can be bad about cooking for the French President? Quite a lot, it seems, with meddling public servants, jealous chefs, miserly accountants and a client distanced by his position ... Still Hortense struggles on, living on rare signs of appreciation from the President (Jean d'Ormesson).
Filmmaker Christian Vincent cuts back and forth between the icy atmosphere of the Palace kitchens and the warmth of the crew at the icy Antarctic base, sometimes a tad clumsily. Still, we get the picture; she is appreciated and respected, even loved, by the ordinary men, and undervalued by the Palace.
It's a slight premise, and I think there is more to the story of Danièle Delpeuch, the woman who is the model for Hortense. But it's an engaging enough film, with a few special moments amidst the procedural aspects; serious cooking always fascinates us foodies, and Hortense has a few appetizing and unique dishes with which to tempt us - not least her cabbage stuffed with smoked salmon. You have to see it to believe it. Better still, to taste it ...
Christine Frot is beautifully cast as the slightly reserved but dedicated chef, whose human instincts are always short changed. The screenplay doesn't give her enough depth, and her background is too sketchily drawn. After all, that's what prompted some serious foodies in France -such as Joël Robuchon - to recommend her for the job of cook to the President, in office from 1981 to 1995.
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HAUTE CUISINE (M)
Les saveurs du Palais
CAST: Catherine Frot, Jean d'Ormesson, Hippolyte Girardot, Arthur Dupont, Jean-Marc Roulot, Arly Jover, Brice Fournier, Joe Sheridan
PRODUCER: Etienne Comar, Philippe Rousselet
DIRECTOR: Christian Vincent
SCRIPT: Christian Vincent, Etienne Comar
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Laurent Dailland
EDITOR: Monica Coleman
MUSIC: Gabriel Yared
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Patrick Durand
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 25, 2013
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