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.
Well, for most of you, dear readers, it would be winter, but obviously, "Down Under" it is still summer - sort of, if you exclude floods, cyclone Yasi, and no more bananas... - and we had some scorching days here in Sydney.
summer is a very special time in Australia as it coincides with Christmas and no more work than in August in France...
It is only after Australia Day on January 26 that the nation comes back to life, with most tradies coming back to site and children going back to school.
So, what one does during that long period of semi-activity or plain lethargy?
One goes to the beach, one gets to discover other parts of Australia or the World (at any given time one out of every 43 Australians is overseas!), and enjoy company of spouse and children, or extended family and friends sharing seafood and fruits around the "barbie" with a beer or a good bottle of wine,
or one can read:
I thought I would share with you the three books that are relevant to our conversation here as they are about France and/or French people.
I managed to read or finish a few other books as well:
The Arrival City, by Doug Saunders, which is relevant to us as recent migrants to Australia, Sacred Games by Vickram Chandra Sacred Games by Vickram Chandra, an epic book about life (and death, and lust...) in India: (exhausting...but very well written once you get into it), and The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis, a mainly narcissist waste of paper and ink at 470 pages, but occasionally interesting as a mirror of one's adolescence if you are a baby boomer (and obviously there are plenty of us out there!)
But now to the ones that are relevant to this blog:
BORDEAUX CHATEAUX - A HISTORY OF THE GRANDS CRUS CLASSES SINCE 1855 - Flammarion
A beautiful complement to "The Heart of Bordeaux" previously featured on our Wine page, magnificent photos, well researched text and lots of historical documents like the original hand-written notes of the original 1855 classification and beyond.
You will find here some of the most famous wines and chateaux, like Ducru-Beaucaillou, my favourite St Julien, and I will share with you the notes for 1982, of which I drank many a bottle:
Start of harvest: September 13
Yield: Very large
Comments: Magnificent wines that will age well into the 21st century - well, if you can find any left, that is...
If you do, let me know!
The Gourmet - Une Gourmandise - by Muriel Barbery - Gallic Books - Gallimard
The book itself is a "gourmandise"! The back cover tells it as it is:
"France's most celebrated food critic is dying, after a lifetime in pursuit of sensual delights. But on his deathbed, Pierre Arthens is in torment as he struggles to recall the most delicious food ever to pass his lips..."
The translation in English is extremely good, but I am dying (lol...) to read it in French, as I am sure, I would find another level of insight and humour in the original Muriel's prose.
And it is like a degustation menu: although it looks very small, it fills you up very nicely.
I can't recommend it more.
PARISIANS - An Adventure History of Paris - Graham Robb - Picador
What a great idea and a great read!
Take a period in the history of Paris, find a true anecdote or story about it, and explore the City of Lights for the clues left over by this event in today's Paris.
Here are some of the chapters/stories:
"The Man Who Saved Paris"
"The Notre-Dame Equation"
"Sarko, Bouna and Zyed"
Maybe I should translate it French...
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.
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