Saturday, December 7, 2013

Haute Cuisine -- Excellent New Food Movie

I just watched Haute Cuisine, an excellent French food movie that is based on the story of Danièle Mazet-Delpeuche, who spend two years as François Mitterand's private chef at the Élysée Palace while he was President of France. (The French title is better: Les Saveurs du Palais, which includes a double-entendre, since palais means both palace and palate.)

An established chef from Périgord, Hortense Laborie is engaged to prepare for Mitterand the cuisine de grand-mère, literally. He wants dishes that recall the ones his own grandmother made, in his words "the best of France," and Hortense obliges with magnificent traditional creations. She is fought at every turn by the all-male 24-chef brigade that prepares the official food of the Palace, a somewhat over the top bunch of macho fools, and later by Mitterand's doctors and some petty accountants who call into question her produce orders.

Highlights of the film, for me, were the many spectacular food and cooking scenes and also some beautiful quotes from Edouard Nignon's Éloge de la Cuisine Française (In Praise of French Food), which according the film was Mitterand's favorite cookbook (apparently he loved reading them as a child).

From the start of Nignon's recipe for Caneton de Rouen Surprise: "Du pays de Pierre Corneille . . ." ("From the land of Pierre Corneille . . .").

And Nignon's recipe for saddle of veal: “Order from the land of lush pastures, from Normandy, where the highest quality cows and calves are rampant, a saddle of young veal, whose flesh must be as white as the finest poultry. Gird it, wrap it around four times with string. Cook in blond butter in a shallow braising dish until golden.”

As Mitterand notes, they just don't write like that anymore.

Hortense (Danièle) is brilliantly played by Catherine Frot. The aging Mitterand is played by Jean d'Ormesson, the brilliant author and member of the Académie Française who is making his film debut at age 92. He is charming but not especially convincing; still, it's a bit of a thrill to see him.

Foodies will love this film.

Bobby Jay


Amanda said...

Thank you for the movie recommendation!
I am on a hunt to buy a santoku knife; unfortunately, I won't make it to Japan for a while but hopefully, I can find a good one here. I might have to go to Little Tokyo or Torrance, Ca where there is an important japanese population (or maybe buy the knife online).

Bobby Jay said...

Your best bet sounds like Little Tokyo. I looked at the the web site of Korin, the best Japanese knife store in NY, and they have lots of cool Japanese knives, but not a plain Japanese style santoku. Just make sure you get one with a two sided blade; the traditional ones are sharpened on only one side, which is very difficult for Westerners not trained in the art of the sharpening stone.

Amanda said...

Thank you for answering so fast! I was reading that some people buy the sharpening stone in Japan when they buy the knife. I will get both eventually.

Bobby Jay said...

The stone is difficult and cumbersome to use, and you must move from coarser to finer (ie more than one stone). Best to stick with a two edged blade and get it professionally sharpened from time to time. The person who sold me mine said it can go 6 months between sharpenings even though it's carbon steel.

Amanda said...

I doubt I would be able to hone the knife myself. I Googled "where can I buy a Shigeharu knife in Los Angeles?" and am checking a bunch of reviews. So fascinating. It seems that Japanese knives are the best . I will ask Ludovic Lefebvre his opinion and maybe he knows a good place where to get one.

Bobby Jay said...

Japanese knives are pretty much universally considered the best. But: they are harder to care for, more fragile (so thin that they can be damaged by a little bone) and don't have a bolster to grab, making them a bit more awkward to hold if you're used to the Western style. Also, the blades tend to be straighter that those on German knifes so it's harder to get the rocking motion that Americans and Europeans are taught to use for chopping. My Japanese style santokou does rock a bit, and the handle is nice despite the lack of bolster, so I am enjoying cutting with it, so far almost exclusively for vegetables and herbs.

Amanda said...

I would only use it for vegetables, fruits and herbs too.