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.
Les Saveurs du Palais
It is this time of the year again where we spend time at the movies!
And the opening night featured the much acclaimed "Haute Cuisine" film by Etienne Comar, who was behind the much darker "Of Gods and Men" two years ago. This is a light comedy loosely based on the time spent by Daniele Mazet-Delpeuch (DMD) as a private cook for the then French President Francois Mitterand.
Madame Mazet-Delpeuch is in Sydney to present the film, kindly participating in a number of events, like a Presidential Dinner at the Sofitel last week (I will tell you all about it in another post as our best friends Mark and Nicky celebrated their wedding anniversary there...) Q&A sessions after the screening of the film, signing books and having an afternoon talk next Monday at the Alliance Francaise in Sydney - I wiil be there! - quite a schedule for a 70+ year old woman!
The film is very well photographed by Laurent Daillant, Catherine Frot is her usual self, elegant, strong minded, funny and really perfect for the role and the food looks amazing. It took three cooks to produce these marvels, where the originals were obviously made by one - DMD - plus a young promising pastry chef.
There is one annoying thing though: the constant plugs for famous brands of cooking equipment, provedores and the likes. There is one funny one actually, that might escape most non-French people and I will try to explain it without spoiling the scene which is quite funny.
That's how it unfolds: Hortense/Catherine Flot/DMD is telling the pastry chef Nicolas that her name comes from the Latin hortus and ask him if he knows what it means, which he doesn't and subsequently being told it means "garden" a very appropriate name for a cook. She then turns to him and ask if he knows where his name comes from. As he doesn't want to look more stupid, he answers that his name comes from a place where people go and buy wine - nobody laughed in the room but me - quite histerically and loudly I have to confess!
Well, Nicolas is a chain of liquor stores in France, not dissimilar to our Vintage Cellars in Australia...here you go!
It had to be a very well planned plug to actually choose the names of the characters to suit!
Anyway, it is a good well crafted movie, a very enjoyable treat for a Friday evening.
Stay tuned as we are seeing another movie tonight...
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.
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