World be­low Macron on view

The Australian - - WORLD -

The French pres­i­den­tial wine cel­lar holds 14,000 bot­tles re­garded as so pre­cious, few peo­ple are al­lowed to en­ter the room. Bou­quets are dis­played at the palace only for a cou­ple of hours so they al­ways look fresh. And the Pres­i­dent’s chefs use 150-year-old cop­per pans.

These and other be­hind-thescenes quirks of the El­y­see Palace were given a rare airing at the week­end when the home of French pres­i­dents since 1848 opened its heavy and usu­ally tightly closed doors to a small, but lucky group of or­di­nary cit­i­zens.

On Satur­day and yes­ter­day, a few hun­dred peo­ple vis­ited the un­der­ground kitchen, cel­lar and florist rooms.

They were able to buy sou­venirs from a new bou­tique to help fi­nance palace ren­o­va­tions ex­pected to cost 100 mil­lion ($164m) over the next seven years. Across France, other usu­ally closed sites also opened their doors for the week­end as part of Euro­pean Her­itage Days.

Un­der Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s of­fice and the El­y­see’s 18th-cen­tury golden re­cep­tion rooms is an un­der­ground world where a small bat­tal­ion of work­ers makes the whole place tick. They labour out of sight in a maze of aus­tere cor­ri­dors and nar­row rooms with ar­ti­fi­cial light and grey and beige walls. Ev­ery morn­ing, the base­ment comes to life when fresh pro­duce, fish and meats are de­liv­ered to the kitchen and checked for qual­ity. Most of the food — ex­cept items such as cof­fee and cho­co­late — is sourced in France.

The kitchen staff of 28 peo­ple, plus ap­pren­tices, serves up to 95,000 meals a year. They cook daily for Mr Macron and his wife Brigitte and for some El­y­see em­ploy­ees, and han­dle of­fi­cial din­ners, big events like re­cep­tions at the Chateau of Versailles west of Paris and pre­pare in-flight meals for the pres­i­den­tial plane.

The base­ment kitchen used to be a horse sta­ble. It was con­verted at the end of the 19th cen­tury and ren­o­vated in 1989. From the kitchen, a dark cor­ri­dor leads to one of the most pro­tected places of the El­y­see: the wine cel­lar.

A first room presents a se­lec­tion of clas­sic wines for work­ing lunches and din­ners and a se­lec­tion of aper­i­tifs. The sec­ond cel­lar, much big­ger, is pro­tected by a locked door. Higher qual­ity bot­tles are stocked there and all visi­tors are banned from en­ter­ing.

The head som­me­lier’s mis­sion is to se­lect wines that fit with the chef’s menu and to buy the finest vin­tages to re­place them: ex­clu­sively French. Euro­pean Her­itage Days, also called Her­itage Open Days, are held ev­ery Septem­ber, with many mon­u­ments and sites across the con­ti­nent open­ing to the pub­lic free of charge.

AP

Em­manuel Macron wel­comes a young artist to the El­y­see

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