Haute Cuisine depicts Hortense Laborie’s experiences as President Mitterrand’s personal cook through flashbacks as she cooks in Antarctica. It is based on the true story of Danièle Mazet-Delpeuch and portrays the struggles of a woman in a male-dominated profession.
Haute Cuisine is set during the Nouvelle Cuisine movement, when cooking stressed lightness and innovation. Food is central to the film and the tension between traditional and modern cooking was apparent from Hortense’s first encounter with the central kitchen, featuring all male chefs conforming to Nouvelle Cuisine guidelines of well-presented and dietetically-approved food.
On the other hand, Hortense passionately cooked hearty regional dishes with locally sourced produce, including cabbage and truffles, which were the stars of classical French cuisine. These ingredients were less appreciated during the Nouvelle Cuisine movement, illustrated by the central kitchen ridiculing Hortense’s menu featuring salmon-stuffed cabbage.
For Hortense, food was also a method of self-expression. She desired a personal connection with the President who ate her dishes, so she sought him out for his approval and recommendations. They bonded over their love for regional cuisine, highlighting that the food of your youth is forever part of your identity.
Here, the film became about the politics of the kitchen. The central kitchen resented Hortense and sexualised her relationship with the President. Hortense’s presence itself is seen as a transgression because according to Davis*, female cooks made humble dishes and men were the innovative chefs.
Confession: Haute Cuisine speaks more to my inner feminist than foodie.
I admire how Hortense doesn’t stand for chauvinism and I believe Haute Cuisine is more about a woman breaking barriers than her two-year stint cooking for the President.
*Readings Project Day 2 Group B – To Make a Revolutionary Cuisine: Gender and Politics in French Kitchens 1789-1815