Haute Cuisine chronicles the real-life story of Danièle Mazet-Delpeuch, represented by the character Hortense Laborie, during her tenure as the first female private chef of the French President.
The film, under cover of fiction, reveals the truth about Mazet-Delpeuch’s challenging experiences at the presidential palace. It confronts critical themes in French cuisine, as discussed by scholars: terroir as a form of regional identification (Trubek, Guy and Bowen), gender politics in the kitchen (Davis) and tensions between classical and nouvelle cuisine (Rao).
Hortense’s rural identity, from a Perigord farm, is displayed in her belief the “best of France” lies outside Paris, with the appellation protected regional agricultural products and specialties. This passion for terroir clashes with the palace’s centralised Parisian vision.
The President’s choice of a woman, to cook homely, grandmother-style food, reflects the French stereotype of women as “cooks”, whilst men are “chefs”. Hortense’s efforts to establish professional credentials are undermined by men, who appraise her looks, label her Du Barry, the infamous mistress of Louis XV, and presume a sexual relationship between her and the President.
Hortense is ostracised by other chefs for her refusal to capitulate to contemporary nouvelle cuisine trends. She references a 19th century cookbook but is also influenced by her mentor, Joel Robuchon. Her cooking indicates a “hybridisation” of cuisine which borrows and blends old and new.
Above all, Haute Cuisine is a “foodie film”, one that uses food as a ‘central symbolic object’. Its storyline revolves around a chef, her culinary creations and her management of a kitchen. Key scenes circulate around meals, food represents character development and serves as symbols and motifs. It is both appetising and enticing.
Davis, Jennifer J. “To Make a Revolutionary Cuisine: Gender and Politics in French Kitchens 1789-1815.” Gender and History 23 2 (2011): 301-320.
Rao, Hayagreeva. “The French Revolution: Collective Action and the Nouvelle Cuisine Innovation.” Market Rebels: How Activists Make or Break Radical Innovations. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009, 69-94.
Smallwood, April. “More than a President’s chef.” SBS, 6 September 2013, http://www.sbs.com.au/food/article/2013/04/23/more-presidents-chef
Trubek, Amy, Kathleen M. Guy and Sarah Bowen. “Terroir: A French Conversation with a Transnational Future.” Contemporary French and Francophone Studies 14 2 (2010): 139-148.
Wickes, Nici.”Five minutes with Daniele Mazet-Delpeuch.” New Zealand Herald, 8 March 2013, “http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=10869355
Featured image: https://www.meetup.com/french-674/events/141825682/
Joel Robuchon: http://unephotographieparjour.hautetfort.com/archive/2009/06/01/joel-robuchon.html