Too many cooks spoil Haute Cuisine
Starring Catherine Frot. In French and English, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable.
A dry comedy of tart manners about a great chef with no taste for politics, Haute Cuisine is a fictionalized version of what happened to Danièle Delpeuch, a farmer and self-trained kitchen whiz who started a rural cooking school and sometimes worked with Julia Child.
In the late ’80s, she was approached by French government officials and asked to cook personally for François Mitterand. Delpeuch served le président in his private quarters, where he lived with his mistress and their daughter and cared little about the all-male group of chefs who ran the palace’s general menu. (Zut alors! A woman in the kitchen?) This part stays in the film, which stars veteran Catherine Frot (The Page Turner), convincing as a screen version called Hortense Laborie. The time is moved closer to the present and the unnamed president is played by heralded academic Jean d’Ormesson—a real-life dining buddy of Mitterand, and far too shy and ancient to be a politician today.
The nicely shot tale mostly concerns Madame Laborie’s quest to make the presidential table less fussy, with more local sourcing part of the Alice Waters–like process. She’s aided by a hunky young pastry chef (up-and-comer Arthur Dupont), but this imperious middle-ager has no love interests, or anything like a personal life. Laborie mentions a grown-and-gone daughter, like Delpeuch had, but we learn little about her background or deeper motivations.
Things are not helped by frequent jumps to the chef’s later tenure as cook for a French research station on an island off Antarctica. Although it reveals her genuine love of cooking, these episodes add nothing to what Frot supplies in an impressively uningratiating performance. A further subplot with an Australian documentary maker (Arly Jover, who is actually Spanish) trying to capture the cook’s southern sojourn is even less significant, except as a reminder that in his Cuisine, writer-director Christian Vincent is probably drawing parallels between filmmaking and fine dining; both work well on paper until too many cooks crowd the kitchen.