|Title: Haute Cuisine (Les saveurs du palais)|
|Genre: Slice of life|
|Director: Christian Vincent|
|Actors: Catherine Frot, Arthur Dupont, Jean D’Ormesson|
|Elements: French food|
|Series: Stand alone|
Hortense Laborie is a famous chef who lives in the Périgord region. To her great surprise, the president of the French Republic appoints her as his personal chef at the Élysée Palace. In spite of the jealousy of the main kitchen cooks, Hortense imposes herself thanks to her sturdy character. The authenticity of her cuisine rapidly seduces the president, but behind the scenes of power, obstacles are many…
This movie is a simple character study of the food prepared by one Hortense Laborie, personal chef to the French President. As a movie, it beautifully highlights the subtlety and simplicity of lesser known (around the world) French cuisine, with the actors playing supporting characters.
There is such an indulgence, such love and care poured into every shot of the food–from recipe creation, to sourcing of ingredients, to the cutting, slicing and dicing of ingredients, and lastly the presentation. The presentation of food is an integral part of the movie, yet not in the way one would expect. Having watched videos dissecting food commercials, I was impressed at the amount of preparation that went into–well, shots of preparing the food. Hortense’s practical nature, along with the president’s preferences meant that they were simply not fans of extraneous decorations around the food. The food videography excelled in highlighting the simplicity of the dishes and presentation, yet left the audience hungering for more, judging from the long satisfied sighs.
It is absolutely lovely to watch a movie about a woman succeeding in her chosen field, proud of that fact yet not boastful, and at the same time not pay any heed to office (or kitchen) politics of any kind. Hortense Laborie is great at what she does. Her professionalism and expertise in the food industry is one that I admire, and thus aspire to.
Her practical nature comes off strongly in her simple, clean recipes, and gets right down to the heart of cooking: the taste of the food. There is one scene with Hortense and the President, where they sit down and discuss the difference between the President’s taste, compared to what is more commonly known as French cuisine around the world. This minutes-long scene seemed like an indulgence, yet it brought me much pleasure to watch them dissect the intricacies of the history of French cuisine. I adored those two characters’ relationship, and at the end of it wanted more scenes of them talking about food.
Hortense’s passion is purely cooking, and there was an air of ‘Mary Poppins’ about her character: once she’s done with what she sets out to do, she moves on. It was admirable, and it was sad–yet perfect–that her time at the Palace ended when she was hindered in her ability to continue doing what she loved. It was more an admission of her having achieved her goal, and not being able to do so anymore, rather than quitting, and I admire that.
Kitchen politics-wise, there are a few petty chefs down in the main kitchen. To call them petty is an injustice, for they were professional despite their resentment of the Hortense as the new, woman, chef of the private kitchen. Those short scenes, briskly and briefly laid out during Hortense’s introduction to the Élysée Palace, served their purpose. For they were just an afterthought to Hortense, and thus to the audience as well.
There are two storylines in the movie. The reason I’m only explaining it now, is because the movie had such a meandering plotline, and it’s such a jarring change from the scenes within the Palace, despite intercutting the the main story. I wasn’t interested in the presence of the Australian media crew tailing Hortense across the sea.
Though I did care about her truffle farm.
Most of the scenes within this plot seemed purely to show characters’ appreciation of her cooking, in a small climax at the end of the movie. Otherwise, I was still captivated by scenes from the other storyline.
One sad note to end off this post: This movie is somewhat inspired by the real life story of Danièle Mazet-Delpeuch. Having scoured the internet in search of her book, and the book recommended by the French president in the movie, my naive hopeful self was saddened to find that much of her experience as told in the B-plot did not occur as such. Nevertheless, go watch this movie, then read Mazet-Delpeuch’s various interviews of her experience during the promotion of this movie. They’re eye-openers.
And if you ever do find the book in the movie, link me to it!