If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to cook for a President, Danièle Mazet-Delpeuch knows. She was the first female chef to cook in France’s Elysee Palace under President Mitterand. Her tenure was controversial and fascinating – the stuff that movies are made up of. In fact, the new French film Haute Cuisine is based on her life.
And one evening in Sydney, 140 diners would get to try some of the dishes that featured in the film. The event held at the Sofitel hotel with its proud French tradition was sold out with a waiting list. Included in the three course menu is Mitterand’s favourite dish: choux farci au saumon which is a layered dish with salmon stuffed between cabbage layers.
Humourous, warm and modest, Danièle who is now in her mid seventies answers questions candidly on her remarkable life and the film. “They wanted to do a movie about food and fun and politics and you may know that for two years I was the private chef of the President of France and after the film was released people in fact didn’t want to hear that much about the palace they just wanted to know who was the real cook, who was the actress playing the cook.”
The idea of a female chef ruffled feathers in the traditionally male dominated French kitchens but Danièle’s response is disarming. “You know I really love to be a woman and it never bothered me. I just don’t care! Most of the time maybe because I love men so much, I don’t realise that they don’t like me!”
In 2000 after she had left the palace, she also embarked on another challenge, cooking for sixty Frenchmen at an Antarctic station. “I was almost 60 and I felt like I was getting old so I need (sic) a change and I went on the internet and I found an ad going to Antarctica. I liked the idea so I called the number.” She didn’t have the necessary qualification that the ad desired but “I said I have a good reference, I was the chef for the President. [The woman] ‘Oh that’s fine! but I want to tell you that you have no chance to go there because you are a woman.’ I said “Pardon?” She asked ‘How old are you?’ and I said “59.” Daniele pauses for effect. ‘Oh madame, you have no chance at all. The limit is 30 (years old).’ I said “Are you telling me that as I am a woman, an old woman, I can’t apply? I’m going to apply and I want to go… and I went!”
Foie gras au torchon, apple ginger, chutney and cocao nibs tuile served with Champagne Taittinger Prestige Rose, NV
The foie gras au torchon was something that we ate a lot while in Montreal and Quebec City. It’s where de- veined foie gras is wrapped in cloth and then poached and sliced. It is served simply with an apple ginger chutney and a delicately thin cacao nib tuile which lends the foie gras additional sweetness without having the melting quality of chocolate. Danièle is considered the queen of foie gras and when asked what she thought of states like California banning foie gras she says ”If I were in California I would be a little upset but I live in France where a lot of farms, especially in south west of France live on raising geese for foie gras. It’s almost in our genes and I respect any ideas about that. Personally I still love foie gras very much.”
Choux farci au Saumon de Tasmanie served with Champagne Taittinger Grand Cru NV