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.
I had a business meeting recently with one of our suppliers who lives in a famous building by the Harbour in Sydney. He had booked the library in the building as we were going to install some new software on my computer, and that has given us grief over a few meetings already, so we welcomed the peace and quiet.
As he was setting up, I was free to roam the shelves of the library, and my eye caught a white spine with the word "Cuisine" on it - why are you not surprised???.
But I got a surprise when I opened it...
It was a recipe book written and illustrated by no other than Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the French artist famous for his paintings - and his love of life, ladies and absinthe...
I was not aware he had written such a tome, and illustrated it with the most amazing drawings and paintings. I wonder how and where I could find a copy...help is welcome!
I am sure you all know of Claude Monet, king of Impressionists, and famous for his hospitality and cuisine, with his most treasured recipes confined to a "Carnet the Cuisine" duly published in 1989 by Les Editions du Chene. You can buy it in English here.
I know because I bought a copy in Giverny in the summer of 1990, when we visited with our new born boy. We ended up having lunch in one of the restaurant at the entrance of the village (Les Jardins de Giverny), in the garden, and who walked in to share this lovely space ? No other than Mel Brooks and his wife, in France for the American Film Festival.
A few few weeks later, we were sitting at Cafe de Flore in St Germain-des-Pres, and Jack Nicholson passed by, and greeted us with a nice comment on our new arrival.
I wonder if these early encounters have anything to do with the same young boy, now turning 20 next Friday, starting a career in filmmaking...
My mum has written her own "Carnets" for me and here is a sample of a page, showing her recipe of "beurre blanc" a classic French sauce. (see text in our "recipes" page)
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.
A link here for our non-metric readers: