The simple story behind Haute Cuisine is that this is the story of chef Danièle Delpeuch, who was brought in as a personal chef for President François Mitterrand. The more complex story is one of a single woman plucked from her country farm and brought into the bustling world of the Palais at N 55 Saint Honore to cook in the private kitchen strictly for this president and his guests. In this fictionalized version, Hortense Laborie portrays Delpeuch. The movie is told through flashbacks juxtaposing Hortense’s time between Paris and Antarctica. Hortense is cooking her last meal as the cafeteria chef for an Antarctic expedition. Her year-long commitment is over and she is planning on returning home to her truffle farm in France. The movie goes back and forth, starkly displaying the differences in how she is treated, respected and considered by the two worlds she inhabited. During her two-years at the Palais, she dealt with staunch sexism and opposition from the male staff of the main kitchen. They dubbed her “Du Barry” in reference to King Louis the XV mistress. What really brought the movie together was its devotion to simple yet intricate meals. What the President and Hortense consider to be simple meals reminiscent of what grandmother cooked seems so overly ornate and complex to my peasant taste buds.
For the most part, the movie is about food. Despite the tension between the two kitchens, there isn’t really much of a developed plot. Its about Hortense’s struggles to cook what she and the president want against the rules set against her by the president’s staff. The movie is… I don’t know what. I wouldn’t classify it as a drama, but its serious in tone. I do love the friendship between Hortense and her pastry chef assistant Nicolas. The quips they share back and forth in the kitchen are endearing. I should note that the movie is in French with English subtitles.
The meals concocted and devised in this movie had me staring at my kitchen in resentment and jealousy. I’ve been working as a full-time librarian for the past 2 months and as a result, I haven’t been cooking or baking anything besides peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunches for the family. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I began watching this movie. The care and thought that goes into planning each meal in the movie is so mesmerizing. I want those skills. I want that knowledge of food and how to incorporate it all together into one amazingly “simple” meal.
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