The Taste of Things: Are Eugenie and Dodin Bouffant Based on Real French Chefs?

Juliette Binoche stars in Trần Anh Húng’s culinary romance drama, ‘The Taste of Things’ (‘La Passion de Dodin Bouffant’ in French) as Eugénie, a cook who has worked for a gourmand, Dodin Bouffant, for many years. The film centers on their relationship, which is connected deeply through food, a medium through which they express their love for each other. The drama gives us an insight into their relationship and how much respect they have for one another. Binoche and Benoît Magimel bring the characters to life with a sincerity that might make one wonder if the characters are based on real life. How much truth is in the story and characters of Eugénie and Dodin? SPOILERS AHEAD

Fictional Eugénie and Dodin Have Roots in Real-Life Relationships

‘The Taste of Things’ is based on Swiss author Marcel Rouff’s 1924 novel titled ‘The Life and Passion of Dodin-Bouffant, Gourmet.’ The story focuses on the life and story of the protagonist Dodin-Bouffant, whom the author loosely based on a real-life French gastronome, Brillat-Savarin. Savarin was a lawyer and a politician who also made a name for himself in gastronomy. He authored a book called  ‘Physiologie du goût’ (The Physiology of Taste), in which he looked at the craft of cooking food from a scientific perspective. He is credited as one of the people to have founded “the genre of the gastronomic essay” and was one of the first to suggest a low-carbohydrate, protein-rich diet over sugar and white flour. In the 1930s, cheese maker Henri Androuët named a cheese after him, which is known as Brillat-Savarin cheese.

When director Trần Anh Húng came across Rouff’s novel, he had been looking for a story related to gastronomy. He wanted something through which he could not only show it as a profession but also as an art practiced by dedicated people. While he liked the character of Dodin from the book and could see a lot of potential for what he wanted to do with the film, he couldn’t find the heart of the story without the character of Eugénie.

In the book, Eugénie dies in an early chapter, making her just a fleeting presence in the story. Hung was interested in capturing the relationship between her and Dodin, wanting to show love and friendship at the same time. So, instead of adapting the book as is, he decided to focus on what wasn’t in the book. He decided to tell the story that happens before the events of the book kick in, making Eugénie one of the main characters in the movie.

Because Hung was now writing a somewhat original story, he drew, at least subconsciously, from his own marriage with Tran Nu Yen Khe. While he says that his and his wife’s relationship is very different from Eugénie and Dodin’s, he did confess to having written some dialogue that he had, at some point, spoken to or talked about to his wife. As for her, Yen Khe says she didn’t see any similarities between their marriage and the relationship in the movie.

Another thing that added a layer of realism to the relationship between the protagonists of the film is the relationship between the actors who portray them. Binoche was cast first to play Eugénie, and later, the director approached Benoît Magimel to play Dodin. Binoche and Magimel are exes. They starred in the 1999 film ‘Children of the Century’ and had a five-year relationship in which they also had a daughter, Hana. When Magimel was brought on board, Binoche revealed that she was nervous about it at first. Later, however, things worked out quite well, and the actors were able to mine their own feelings to play their roles with much more depth.

Considering all this, we can say that while Eugénie and Dodin are fictional characters plucked from the pages of a novel, the writer-director of the film and the actors have breathed life into them through their own experiences of love and heartbreak.

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