© Wild Bunch/Alamode/Central

Die Köchin und der Präsident (Haute Cuisine, Les Saveurs du Palais)
France 2012

Opening 20 Dec 2012

Directed by: Christian Vincent
Writing credits: Etienne Comar, Christian Vincent, Danièle Mazet-Delpeuch
Principal actors: Catherine Frot, Jean d'Ormesson, Hippolyte Girardot, Arthur Dupont, Jean-Marc Roulot

Feeling hungry? Have a substantial meal before you enter the theater to watch this film. Popcorn just won’t do. The dishes that Hortense Laborie (Catherine Frot) conjure up to satisfy the “simple tastes” of the aging French president (Jean D’Ormesson) will drive you to mouth-watering distraction, even on a full stomach. Hortense, a provincial chef renowned for her traditional cooking, has been summoned to Paris to become the personal cook for a high government official. When she finds herself at the Elysée Palace and discovers her boss to be the president of the republic, she is delighted and immediately heads for the kitchen. For two years she and the amiable young pastry chef Nicolas (Arthur Dupont) devote their lives to satiating every gastronomic whim of the president who nostalgically is searching for the culinary delights of his youth. Hortense and the president spend time together discussing recipes, ingredients, and methods of food preparation. He recites passages from a cookbook he had memorized as a child. “Just give me the best France has to offer,” he demands.

Hortense complies even having mushrooms handpicked by her family and delivered by train. However, palace intrigue is mounting, driven by the jealousy of the male-dominated cooking staff. They suggestively dub her “du Barry” the name of one of Louis XV’s favorite mistresses, and even horreur of all horreurs, sabotage one of her desserts. When the doctor orders that the president must be placed on a low fat, no frills diet, Hortense throws in the towel (and apron as well) and goes off to Antarctica to become a cook at a remote scientific outpost. The world of political conspiracy, which the President had confided to Hortense invigorated him, is now only a fading memory as she wins over the hearts of this male-dominated scientific world.

Director Christian Vincent based this story on the real-life case of Danièle Delpeuch, who in the late 1980s was personal cook to President François Mitterrand at the Elysée Palace. The flashbacks to the Elysée Palace and fast-forwards to the scientific outpost are, at times, an annoying and distracting device. Hortense prepares magnificent meals at both locations, but, at any moment, just which kitchen is she in? Hint: If her hair is up she’s in the palace, if it’s down she’s in the camp. Also the imposition an Australian documentary film team, an eager young woman and her boorish cameraman, detracts from an otherwise engaging film. All this could almost be forgiven for just one spoonful of her la crème de Mémée. If you are a foodie, a Francophile, or both, you’ll savor this film. BON APPÉTIT. (Pat Frickey)

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