Little Known Films: Haute Cuisine (Les Saveurs du Palais)

France 2013, 95 minutes
WARNING: This film should not be watched on an empty stomach

THIS BEAUTIFULLY FILMED and briskly paced biopic is based on the real life case of Danièle Delpeuch, a modest, provincial chef and restaurant-owner who in the late 1980s was summoned by President François Mitterrand to be his personal cook at his official residence, the Elysée Palace. Danièle becomes Hortense (Catherine Frot) and Mitterrand becomes the President, played by the 87-year-old non-actor Jean d'Ormesson, better known as a writer and journalist (in the latter role he was, for many years, one of Mitterrand's fiercest adversaries). The President has developed a hankering for the traditional regional cuisine he knew in his youth and decided that Hortense is just the woman he needs to provide him with “the best of France.”

The palace intrigue takes its toll as she battles both sexism in the downstairs kitchens and a soul-killing bureaucracy upstairs. Further complications arise when health problems require the President to be put on a diet that rules out sauces, spices and other essential pleasures of life.

Partly shot in the palace itself, the film is framed and punctuated by sequences set some 8,000 miles off Antarctica where Danièle/Hortense sought refuge some years later as chief cook for a scientific expedition. Apparently, the palace didn’t pay well and she is determined to buy a truffle farm in New Zealand.

This is a food lover’s film that embraces the kinetic energy of the kitchen itself in the form of glossy reductions, plump escargot, rich duck breasts layered with delicately cooked vegetables and a cream cheese treat that requires straining through a mesh made of a particular grass.

This film is ONLY available on Netflix streaming. Her cookbook, “Carnets de Cuisine” is on Amazon. The closest gym is in Tappan.