World below Macron on view
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.
Emmanuel Macron welcomes a young artist to the Elysee