First meandering between lush, green French and stark Antarctic landscapes, Haute Cuisine, takes us into the intimate world of Hortense Laborie (Catherine Frot), a chef from the French countryside who is ordered by the president to become his personal chef in order to satisfy his cravings for meals reminiscent of his grandmother’s cooking. The film is based on the true story of Danièle Delpeuch, who was indeed summoned by President François Mitterrand to his personal kitchen at the Elysée Palace. Hortense navigates between the initial lack of direction for the president’s expectations, the competitive machismo attitudes in the palace’s main kitchen, and governmental bureaucracy troubling her (and the president’s) desires for fresh, local ingredients and soulful dishes. We soon discover the shared dedication to the culinary riches of French country cuisine as the president and Hortense narrate recipes in exquisite poetic detail, accompanied by montages of dishes that will leave all film goers hungry. (Do not see this film empty-bellied).
Hortense is a fascinating lead character; her spirit initially strong and defiant in the face of being thrown into a man’s world, we are shifted back and forth between her past in France to her present in Antarctica, where she has taken refuge as the lead chef for a scientific expedition, another all-male setting. “Adversity keeps me going,” the president tells her when the going gets tough in the French palace, “it is the spice of life.” Hortense must share his philosophy; she moves through life taking on challenges that enable her to pour herself into her culinary creations, winning the hearts of those who are fortunate enough to feast on them as well as the hungry spectators of the film’s beautiful cinematography. A post-movie meal plan is highly recommended.
FPH Gotham Film Correspondent