Haute Cuisine

The business of food is fast becoming a subgenre of its own. Whether sending up a head chef with droll frivolity (in Daniel Cohen's Le Chef) or performing a real-life character study on film (David Gelb's Jiro Dreams of Sushi), cinema has embraced the finer side of television's kitchen obsession.

With Christian Vincent's Haute Cuisine, we're led inside the hallowed walls of the Elysee Palace in Paris for an engaging portrait of the woman who fed president Francois Mitterrand. Daniele Delpeuch - or Hortense Laborie (Catherine Frot), as she's called in the film - wasn't a restaurateur, nor could she claim a Michelin hat, but her country-French culinary style appealed to Margaret Thatcher's European contemporary, and a mutual love of cuisine was borne out within the highest Continental seat of power outside Brussels.

Haute Cuisine is a likeable, light-hearted look at how such an unlikely scenario might have played out. Laborie is first seen on a ship off Antarctica, where she fled after her duties in Paris were complete. The switch to the French capital couldn't be more pronounced, particularly since she battled an all-male army of chefs who remain at the helm of the palace kitchen.
Mitterrand, played by French author Jean d'Ormesson in his first screen role, is presented as a greying figure, referred to only as Le President. Director Christian Vincent wisely chooses to dramatise events, rather than document them. It would be an entertaining prospect to compare similar exercises conveyed from within the White House and No.10 Downing Street.

Delpeuch's penchant for fresh produce and traditional fare led to her regularly butting heads during her two-year tenure at the palace. Unbeknown to the public, the president battled prostate cancer for much of his time in power. One imagines a wholesome serving was just what the doctor ordered.

Delpeuch appears to look back fondly on her time with Le President. There was, it would seem, never a dull moment.

- Ed Gibbs, Sydney Herald


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Haute Cuisine

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