Review: Hail to the chief’s chef in the savory ‘Haute Cuisine’

Catherine Frot stars in "Haute Cuisine."
(Anouchka de Williencourt )

The unnamed president in “Haute Cuisine,” an ode to traditional French cuisine and professional pride, summons a self-taught culinary expert from the provinces to be his personal chef at the Élysée Palace. “Give me the best of France,” he tells her. Cue the truffles.

Food porn is not the raison d'être of Christian Vincent’s feature, but there’s no shortage of loving close-ups of savories and sweets, and such phrases as “chanterelle fricassee” are uttered with profound regard. Hoo-hahs over oysters and homemade cream cheese are presented as momentous.

What tempers the concoction is the quiet authority of Catherine Frot as Hortense Laborie, the cooking instructor and entrepreneur who relocates from the Périgord to Paris. With no fuss, she takes command and stands up to the boys’ club in the downstairs main kitchen when they don’t play nice. Hortense’s encounters with the chief of state are nicely understated; octogenarian novelist Jean d’Ormesson brings a twinkle-eyed gravitas to his first big-screen role.

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If the material lacks a distinctive flavor profile, its restraint is its strength. The focus on a woman’s passionate hard work without need of marital-status back story is refreshing.

“Freely inspired by” the experiences of Danièle Mazet-Delpeuch, Francois Mitterrand’s chef for two years of his presidency, the movie intercuts between Hortense’s palace stint and a later job at an Antarctic research station. The contrast between the rarefied and the working class speaks for itself, although the latter-day scenes strain for the dramatic equivalent of the sugar roses that the president disdains.


“Haute Cuisine”

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Landmark’s Nuart Theatre, West Los Angeles