I signed up for Netflix a few months ago and I’m enjoying access to many French films and TV series. One that I just watched was Haute Cuisine, staring Catherine Frot. The title in France was Les Saveurs du Palais (lay savur due palay), or “the flavors of the palace.” The movie is based on the story of Danièle Delpeuch who was the personal chef of French president François Mitterand.
In the film, the chef is named Hortense Laborie. The premise of the film is that Laborie is now finishing a one-year appointment in Antarctica, where she persistently dodges questions about her life at the Palace. The film then flashes back to the day that Laborie was scooped from her truffle farm and small auberge in the middle of nowhere at the request of Mitterand. Her job was to cook lunch for the President and whatever dignitaries were present on any given day. Why Laborie? Because she cooked like his grandmother.
Mitterand is played by Jean d’Ormesson who bears absolutely no resemblance to the former President. The real Mitterand was a famous foodie who was ill for much of his presidency. The film portrays the conflict between Laborie and the macho, resentful chefs in the main kitchen who tackle all of the official dinners and feed the Élysées Palace staff and the growing conflict between her and the President’s medical team who keep at her to cut fat from his diet. The final straw is a new Palace boss who nitpicks about costs. Finally, she can take it no longer. She leaves and takes the job in the Antarctic to build a nest egg for a new truffle farm in New Zealand.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the film is the rapport between Laborie and her sous chef Nicolas (played by Arthur Dupont). The moments between them as they cook and taste their way through one exquisite comfort food menu after another are an ode to great ingredients prepared with love and skill. I’d let either of them cook for me any day.