Pres­i­den­tial palace opens doors

Dur­ing rare tour, cit­i­zens see El­y­see’s usu­ally off-lim­its sites

The Dallas Morning News - - World - De veau, blan­quette Sylvie Corbet, The As­so­ci­ated Press

PARIS — The French pres­i­den­tial wine col­lec­tion holds 14,000 bot­tles deemed so pre­cious that few peo­ple are al­lowed to en­ter the cel­lar where they are stored. The pres­i­dent’s chefs use 150year-old cop­per pans. But the flow­ers dis­played at the pres­i­den­tial palace have a shelf life of only a cou­ple of hours, lest the blooms ap­pear past their peak fresh­ness.

These and other be­hindthe-scenes quirks of the El­y­see Palace had a rare pub­lic air­ing Satur­day, when the home of French pres­i­dents since 1848 opened its heavy and typ­i­cally closed doors to a small group of or­di­nary cit­i­zens.

A few hun­dred peo­ple were in­vited in­side to see the El­y­see’s un­der­ground kitchen, cel­lar and florist rooms on Satur­day and Sun­day. Across France, other sites usu­ally off lim­its had week­end win­dows of ac­ces­si­bil­ity as part of Euro­pean Her­itage Days.

The pri­vate tour of what takes place be­hind the scenes in France’s pres­i­den­tial palace in­cluded a chance to buy sou­venirs from a new bou­tique to help fi­nance palace ren­o­va­tions ex­pected to cost $117 mil­lion over the next seven years.

An un­der­ground world ex­ists un­der Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s of­fice and the El­y­see’s 18th-cen­tury golden re­cep­tion rooms, oc­cu­pied by a small bat­tal­ion of work­ers that makes the whole place tick. They la­bor out of sight in a maze of aus­tere cor­ri­dors and nar­row rooms with ar­ti­fi­cial light and gray 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 like cof­fee and choco­late — is sourced in France.

The kitchen staff of 28, plus ap­pren­tices, serves 92,000 to 95,000 meals per year. They cook daily for Macron and his wife, Brigitte, and for some El­y­see em­ploy­ees, and han­dle of­fi­cial din­ners, big events such as re­cep­tions at the Chateau of Ver­sailles, west of Paris, and pre­pare in-flight meals for the pres­i­den­tial plane.

Pres­i­den­tial tastes and menus re­main one of the best-kept se­crets of the El­y­see.

Chef Guil­laume Gomez wouldn’t an­swer ques­tions about the Macrons’ meals. The French leader once said his fa­vorite dish is

a tra­di­tional veal stew in creamy white sauce.

“Un­like a restau­rant, we work on a daily ba­sis with the sea­sons, the ac­tiv­ity and news events of the pres­i­dent,” he said.

A full set of cop­per pots and pans from 1845 to 1865 hang on the wall and are used daily. Gomez said the cop­per would cor­rode if the pans were idle. “If it’s not used — heated, cooled down, heated, cooled down — it dies,” he said.

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 aper­i­tif drinks. 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, of course.

The mul­ti­ple un­der­ground cor­ri­dors seem like a labyrinth to out­siders. But the smell of flow­ers points the way to the florists’ rooms.

Three peo­ple pre­pare flower dis­plays. Mar­i­anne Fuseau, head florist, ex­plained that flow­ers are matched to suit the table­cloths and table­ware “to avoid any bad taste.”

She also checks that the col­ors don’t clash with the clothes worn by vis­it­ing heads of state. She avoids lilies, too fra­grant, and mi­mosas, be­cause they can pro­voke al­ler­gic reactions.

Anne-Christine Pou­joulat/Agence France-Presse

Vis­i­tors took pic­tures at the El­y­see Palace as it was opened to the pub­lic in Paris on Satur­day as part of Euro­pean Her­itage Days. Crowds were treated to be­hind-thescenes quirks of the home of French pres­i­dents since 1848.

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