Haute Cuisine, which in French means ‘high cooking’, refers to the cuisine characterized by meticulous preparation and careful presentation of food at high-level establishments like gourmet restaurants and luxury hotels. Haute Cuisine is set in the kitchens of the Elysee Palace, where a modest farmer and cook from Perigord, Hortense Laborie (Catherine Frot), is summoned to take on the envious role as private chef for President of the Republic, Francois Mitterand (Jean d’Ormesson). Based on the true story of Daniele Mazet-Delpeuch, Haute Cuisine is an enjoyable bio-drama co-written (with Etienne Comar, producer of Of Gods and Men) and directed by Christian Vincent and sure to please food connoisseurs and appreciators of embraced passion and unwavering spirit. Hortense’s authentic cooking, utilizing only the finest organic produce, often couriered personally by train from her distant family farm, her firm but respectful rule over the private kitchen and the chefs who assist her, and her clear passion for unique flavour results in the President becoming an admirer of her work, despite the very rare occasions the pair get to meet and talk. Her simple dishes remind him of the home cooked meals from his youth.
The aggravating macho-politics of the main kitchen (populated by battling male egos and an unproductive sense of hierarchy), in response to the origins of a female presence, resulted in unexpected drama that forced her to move on. The film cuts between the Palace and a camp in Antarctica, where her talents are being celebrated at a farewell party following her short stay. The men in the camp, with speculated anecdotes, share stories of Hortense’s past glory. While she is here, an Australian documentarian, having heard of her role, approaches her repeatedly in the hopes of shooting a story, but the humble Hortense keeps her experiences close to her chest.
With the Palace sequences actually shot on location there is a beauty and an authenticity that allows one to forgive some of the awkward staging within the film. The working relationship between Hortense and her Sou Chef is also a lovely touch.
The aforementioned doco subplot and the hierarchy challenging, leading to many a leering gaze from the voice-less male cohorts, feel forced, but led by Frot’s strong performance, it had me thinking about food for the rest of the day and overall, is moderately entertaining.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22