Showing at UR's International Film Fest tonight was the French bio-pic "Haute Cuisine" based on the memoir of Daniele Delpeuch, who served as private chef to French president Mitterrand.
When I invited my favorite Francophile to join me, she informed me that she'd already seen it on Netflix (not that watching a movie at home in any way compares to seeing it on the big screen, but I digress). She wavered, saying that it had been a charming film, so I sweetened the pot by suggesting that we go out for a bite afterwards and she climbed on board.
As many times as I've been to UR for their weekly screenings, tonight's crowd was by far the largest I'd ever seen. We took seats in front of three women, one of whom I knew, and we were all soon relating about short grandmothers (not one of us five had had one who'd been over 5' tall) and the inevitability of tall men sitting in front of us at theaters.
Mid-conversation, three men clambered over us and sat down to my right, effectively doing exactly what we'd been discussing to the women behind us. When I turned around in empathy, the three burst out laughing.
"Are you in some sort of ladies' club?" the man next to me inquired quite seriously. You mean like the She-Ra Man Hater's Club? No, sir, I'm not.
Usually the film is introduced by a professor who provides a bit of background and suggests elements to watch for, but tonight a different man greeted us, joking, "Tonight's French film didn't arrive, so we're going to show an Italian horror movie."
It wouldn't have mattered since obviously the predominantly female audience had nothing better to do on a Friday night than watch a mature French woman effortlessly cook meals for the President of the Republic. Being French, she couldn't help but do it with perfect make-up, lots of jewelry and impossibly soigne ensembles under her simple (but chic) black apron.
As if we didn't already know French women are different than us, watching the lovely 58-year old actress Catherine Frot with her flawless skin, impeccable posture and cheekbones to die for was a solid reminder that however they do it - all that wine and foie gras, high heels worn everywhere (including the kitchen) - we should be emulating it from birth.
"Haute Cuisine" fits solidly into the food movie trend of the past few years with mouth-watering shots of edibles being prepared, plated and served. Because this one was also French, there were just as many sexy shots of ingredients like truffles, cep mushrooms and Savoy cabbage to titillate the audience.
But the most satisfying part of it all was that she wasn't preparing fancy food for the Prez. He'd hired her because he wanted a woman to cook the rustic dishes of his youth, the kind of dishes his grandmother used to make. The chef even uses vintage cookbooks to seek out era-appropriate inspiration.
The movie's drama arrives courtesy of the large staff of the all-male main kitchen who resent the presence of a woman in their historically male domain, even though she's in a separate, smaller kitchen. Chauvinism and bad behavior are rampant. Still, she perseveres right up until bureaucrats try to control what she cooks for the sake of the president's health.
Lesson #1: never tell a French chef she can't cook with butter and cream or she'll resign and take a job in Antarctica where lonely men on a base appreciate her
When the lights came up, the first words out of my friend's mouth were, "That's a movie that'll make you hungry." Not having eaten since lunch was every bit as effective for me.
My plan was to go to Acacia to check out their late night bar menu but the sleek bar was full up, so the hostess graciously put us at a small nearby table with bar menus. Overhead, middle eastern techno pulsed out the beat of a Friday night.
We debated the appeal of drinking Rose in the winter (not a problem for me), something she resists despite drinking white wine during cold months. Makes no sense to me. After my ruby red glass of Tavel Chateau d'Aqueria Rose arrived, we considered the menu which was heavy on fish.
Leave it to Acacia to do a bar menu that's more Acacia-like than bar-like. I chose fish tacos after hearing that they were made with fresh flounder. Two fat tacos stuffed with fish and jalapeno slaw boasted plate mates of fresh guacamole and recently-fried tortilla chips with a pretty little mesclun salad on the side.
It may have read as a snack but was most certainly more of a meal. After watching a movie about the pleasures of food, it would have been completely unsatisfying to have noshed on average food afterwards. Even she had to admit that her lobster bisque was the perfect decadence to put a period at the end of a story about a French kitchen.
And not just any kitchen, but one where a middle-aged woman stole the show with her unflappable demeanor, peasant cooking and devotion to fresh ingredients.
Much as I enjoyed the movie, I admit I'm not inspired to cook any more often because of it. That's what chefs are for.
On the other hand, I am rethinking how often I put on heels and go shopping at the farmer's market. Ineffable French style has to start somewhere.