Have you ever sat through a dinner party with perfectly pleasant but perfectly dull guests? That’s like sitting through Haute Cuisine. It’s not offensive, but you secretly wish you’d drunk a bit more wine before you arrived.
Haute Cuisine tells the story of Hortense Laborie (Catherine Frot), a Périgord local renowned for her exemplary yet simple French cooking. Unexpectedly appointed as the French President’s personal chef, the film profiles Hortense’s journey into the treacherous presidential kitchens. Resented by the jealous staff, Hortense sets about winning over the President’s palate. And while there’s some heated power play between Hortense and the disagreeable macho chefs, the film’s temperature remains somewhat tepid throughout.
Based on the true story of Danièle Delpeuch, who cooked for President Francois Mitterand, Haute Cuisine melds fact with fiction as it tells the story of one woman’s battle to survive within a closed male establishment. Indeed, Hortense’s alienation within the Élysée is palpable. Enhancing this is the Antarctic setting that is woven throughout the film, where Hortense works as a chef on a scientific base after her resignation from the Élysée. Despite the starkness of Antarctica compared to the lavish Élysée, it is within this climate that Hortense finds true warmth and acceptance.
The one element that really does bring this film flavour is the Élysée Palace setting. Renowned as one of the most beautiful houses in France, the Élysée has interiors so ornate they’d give any Vegas casino a run for its money, and the film certainly benefits from a few full days’ shooting inside the premises. There’s also some food photography that’s sure to quicken the pulse of any dedicated foodie.
Haute Cuisine has all the ingredients required to make a spectacular cinematic experience: the romance of a Parisian setting, the highly sensual and evocative subject of food and the story of a lone woman’s triumph over adversity. Yet, somehow, what’s served up on the screen is somewhat bland. However it is totally inoffensive.
*** out of five stars
BY AMELIA SAW
Haute Cuisine is in cinemas now.