When Daniele Delpeuch was in Sydney recently, for the opening of the movie – Haute Cuisine – about her life (just some of her incredible life), I was privileged to spend time with her at an intimate soiree in her honour. I’d already seen a preview of the movie – the French title Les Saveurs Du Palais is to my mind more aligned to the regional country food of the movie – at which I cried tears of joy. Truly: I did. This is to my mind, one of the great food movies of all time. The movie, her story, resonated on so many levels: a woman in a commercial kitchen contending with the male brigade of chefs, a strength of character to hold on to her food philosophy, and most of all a sheer love for seasonal produce and traditional regional cookery.
And I had already had a chance to speak with Daniele Delpeuch from her home in France. Truffle farmer Daniel Delpeuch has an incredible story. A woman before her time, Daniel Delpeuch started the first regional cookery school in France. When French President Francois Mitterand wanted a woman to cook for his private dining room, the story continues.
The movie Haute Cuisine follows this stage of her life, cooking for President Francois Mitterand interspersed with anecdotes from the following period that she spent cooking on a French base in Antartica. When the idea for the movie was born, co-writer and producer Étienne Comar relates that with his first meeting of Ms. Delpeuch came an invitation “Come for lunch on Sunday” she said. They spent five hours at the table where they “ate like kings.” I understand this genuine hospitality that is at the heart of this woman. When she arrived at the Sydney soiree held in her honour by our very good mutual friends Robert Carmack and Morrison Polkinghorne the first thing she did was butter bread. Every guest was offered a slice of the bread she had buttered on arrival before she circulated to meet each and every person.
When did you start cooking?
I started when I was 20 – 25 living on a farm and I decided to create a foie gras cooking class. That was the first experience of this type in France.
Is the movie true to you?
[There are] very little things are not exactly, but the sense is the same. I love the actress, and we became friends..
She looks like me. She moves her hands [the way I do].. She is not a cook at all.
We talked about the first dish she cooks for the President: a cabbage stuffed with salmon and how in the movie she checks the plate when it comes back.
I was very very very intimidated the first time.. He ate everything; I was so pleased.
I told Ms. Delpeuch that my favourite scene is in the kitchen, late at night, eating the first fresh black truffles of the season (thinly sliced fresh black truffles on toast – if you have never eaten this it is an incredible dish).
You know, we had these kind of simple moments. A President is a person like everybody.
(On the male brigade of chefs at the Élysée Palace) I felt a little frustrated by the attitude of the men.. This story is 25 years old. Women were not that welcome in the kitchen yet and now they are more welcome especially in the kitchen with young chefs. You know I mean the new generation..
I just had to do my work. My only task was to please the President.
We talked of much more, both by phone and in person, but I’ll leave you with this.
What was it like cooking in the private kitchen for the President?
It was like a dream.
I suggest you see the movie. If you want to partake of a truly grand moment in life, I more than suggest; I insist. Haute Cuisine – distributed by Transmission Films – opens in Australia on April 25th.
For you chance to WIN 1 of 20 in season double passes on Inside Cuisine >> enter here <<