Danielle Mazet-Delpeuch returns to Sydney after a 23 years absence to promote the film based on her time in the private kitchen of the Elysee Palace, cooking for Francois Mitterand - Haute Cuisine - Les Saveurs du Palais.
We had a chance to meet her after the screening of the film and then again in a more intimate setting at the Alliance Francaise of Sydney yesterday afternoon. Today she was interviewed by Margaret Throsby on ABC Classic FM and you can listen the podcast by clicking the button below.
Danielle is a vibrant 71 year old, full of life and humour, with plenty adventures over these many decades, and my guess is she is not done yet!
A few things emerged from these three contacts I had with her:
As she says herself, she is not a chef, but just a cook, but obviously not any cook, having learned the tricks of the trade from her grandmother, then mother and many other relatives and people around her over the years.
So really the English title for the film - Haute Cuisine - is misleading and the French title suits better the task at hand and the skills required. Mitterand said to her: Cook like my grandmother and I will be happy:
"Vaste programme" like this other French President, Charles de Gaulle famously answered to his Chief of Staff after he said in a moment of frustration: "Morts aux cons!". (and yes it is quite less rude in French than the English translation will suggest...Actually, I can't print it here, not to offend anyone!)
One person in the audience at The Chauvel asked her what was the most interesting to her: politics, sex or food?
She very politically answered that she was not interested in politics, letting the other two up in the air!
Well, let me tell you, Danielle is a very skilled political animal, as she has maneuvered herself across continents, social layers and various kitchens around the World with aplomb and a sense that anything is possible if you put your mind to it! Her life is certainly a testament to that...
Another interesting comment she made - and I certainly relate to it - was that to be a good cook, you need a good audience, you need "gourmands", and in this regard, Mitterand was definitely famous for his love of good food and good company, with a penchant for the feminine one...
From the moment she started her cooking classes at La Borderie - the famous week-ends foie gras - she actually attracted the right crowd, people that have been exposed to the "Cuisine Bourgeoise" either in their childhood or later in life as they became more affluent and could afford to travel in search of this authenticity attached to it.
This in turn triggers the search for the local and seasonal ingredients and the art of designing a menu with what you have in the pantry or you can source from the farm or the local market(s).
Promoting these ideas at the time she started was completely revolutionary, although today this is becoming mainstream again, and sometime to the extreme, as Chefs around the World go foraging themselves for special herbs and vegetables. Not very different from digging truffes from your own backyard or gently force feeding geese and ducks to produce delicious meat, silky foies gras and fat to cook with. Nothing was dicarded from the animal apart from the head!
A bit of trivia gleaned here and there over her visit:
It took three people to recreate her recipes for the film:
Gerard Besson, ex owner of Le Coq Heron in Paris, now owned by and renamed Kei, a promising young Japanese Chef
Guy Legay, ex Chef de Cuisine at the Ritz, and like Gerard Besson, Meilleur Ouvrier de France, the highest distinction one can achieve in this trade
And finally, Elisabeth Scotto, a very famous stylist who write for Elle
The Antarticas scenes were in fact shot in Iceland - a tad simpler, closer and cheaper than going all the way to the Antipodes...
The book mentioned in the film "Eloges deal Cuisine Francaise" by Gerard Nignon is out of print, and is available as an antique for 700euros - that's almost 1000A$. I will be waiting for a generous benefactor!!!
Danielle said also that she dreamt of travelling at a very young age, and she certainly did catch the travel bug, having spent time in the USA, Australia, New Zealand (where she owns a plot of land destined to be transformed into a "truffiere" one day...), all over Asia and Europe.
Maybe the next adventure will be to cook for Virgin Galactic and Richard Branson...Stay tuned!
Danielle, thanks for your time in Australia and thanks for having shared with us some of your experience, adventures and wisdom.
Food is all about celebration and connections really, so apart from the exchange of gifts, a tradition anchored in the night of times (dans la nuit des temps...), a birthday would not be complete without the partaking of a nice meal, in this case dinner.
Our boy is away in the Alps riding mountain bikes in Les Gets and off to Castiglioncello in Italy next week, so it is only the three of us.
As you may recall from my last post, we had bought zucchini flowers, goat cheese and scallops from the markets today and I had bought some magret de canard yesterday to recreate a dish that I sampled recently in Melbourne at the Waterfront in Southbank - a very nice place indeed, although you will find a collection of bad reviews for it.
Let's say that I sat at the bar and watched the kitchen buzz, which I really enjoy, and I could not fault any of the dishes being prepared, plated up and served. My meal came quickly enough, the service was attentive and the maitre d knowledgeable about the wine list.
Anyway, moving on to my own kitchen, I prepared baked zucchini with ricotta filling and pecorino as per Carmel's Kitchen recipe (Zav's wife...) and here it is:
Remove the pistils from the flowers and fill with ricotta
Spray olive oil in a baking tray, lay the flowers into tray, season and sprinkle with grated pecorino
Bake for 15mn in oven at 180 degrees Celsius
Serve as an entree.
For the main course, I prepared scallops with duck magret, asparagus and endives.
This is not difficult to prepare, but difficult to serve hot and still rose for the duck, and warm for the scallops...
So, here we go:
Braise the endives until transparent but not fully cooked to keep them almost crunchy.
I achieve that in a pan with a little olive oil, the endives shredded, seasoned and covering the pan with a lid on low heat for 15/20mn. Keep warm in a bowl.
In the same pan, cook the small asparagus and the duck sliced in 3mm thick morsels.
Warm your oven to 120 degrees, place your plates on different trays for 10mn until lukewarm
Plate up the endives in the middle, the aspatragus next to the duck slices and leave enough space in between for the scallops. Put back in the oven after covering with aluminium foil or baking paper to prevent the duck to dry.
Go and enjoy your entree with your guests and a glass of wine.
Then, pan fry the scallops in a large pan with olive oil and some butter, as you want them to cook in a similar way.
30 seconds on one side until brown, then turn them over for another 30 seconds.
Sprinkle with the juice of half a kaffir lime to deglaze the pan.
Remove plates from the oven, plate up the scallops, and serve immediately...yum!
Serve with your favourite Chardonnay and enjoy with no moderation, you are done for the day!
Serve goat cheese with nuts and raisins bread to finish. And enjoy the company of your happy guests:
Happy Birthday, Trish!
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.
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