“Les Saveurs du Palais” (France)—no release date yet. Now that Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli in Barcelona, the “world’s best restaurant,” has closed, gastronomes with deep pockets have no option but to fly to Copenhagen and gather at René Redzepi’s Noma, newly crowned with the title. Farewell molecular cuisine and turnip petals with iced peanut foam, hello foraging—moss, spruce-tree bark and wild asparagus. All this is fine but, as the French know in their hearts, fashions come and go but solid traditional home cooking will win every time. Ask the French President who, in his official residence, the Elysée Palace in Paris, is bored with the meals dished up by the official kitchen.
On the recommendation of famed chef Joël Robuchon, he brings in Hortense Laborie (Catherine Frot, “Chaos,” “The Page Turner”) from her farm/workshop/kitchen in Périgord, a region in France known for its extreme attention to cuisine, a far cry from the rivalries and intrigues taking place in the kitchens of the Elysée basement. Hortense becomes private chef to the president and his personal guests while the main chef, the one in charge of official meals and state dinners, tries his best to sabotage her work. On this slender premise— loosely based on a true story that became a book by Mitterrand’s personal chef—Frot, one of the most versatile and intelligent actresses working in France today, enchants with her aloof response, concentrated as she is on riffing on her thorough knowledge of authentic, terroir cuisine to please the president’s palate.
The greatest compliments come from the man himself, delighted to rediscover his grandmother’s cooking which enchanted him as a child—surely a long, long time ago, given that the unnamed president, charmingly played by Académie Francaise author Jean d’Ormesson, is quite feeble and aged himself, more than any politician would be today. All this takes place in flashback, as Hortense now finds herself in Antarctica on another cooking project never quite elucidated. This is one weakness in a film that has several but Frot’s acting and the close-ups on scrumptious meals will not disappoint. The lights come on just in time for you to leaf hungrily through your guidebook for the closest restaurant serving authentic French cuisine, just like your grandmother’s.