French craft services lets crews eat cake

Even on modest sets, meals tend to be leisurely, four-course affairs

PARIS — In the shadow of the Palais de Versailles, the lucky folk working on the set of Sofia Coppola’s “Marie-Antoinette” last year feasted on food fit for a king.

But then this is France.

A typical lunch consisted of freshly marinated salmon, boeuf bourguignon, a choice of eight different cheeses rounded off with a creme brulee. The only thing missing was wine. A bottle of Bordeaux is on every table during a French film shoot but le vin is banned by Americans.

Whipping it all together from fresh ingredients bought at the crack of dawn each day at the market was caterer Locafete, a company that has been serving meals on Gallic movie sets for more than 30 years and one of several serving the French film biz.

“Food is primordial on a film set in France,” says Jacques Grousset, the company’s founder. “French technicians want to know who’s doing the catering before they sign their contracts.”

Indeed, the sacrosanct lunch break is even laid down by law. Workers on film sets must have a full hour off for lunch. Even on the most modest set, meals tend to be leisurely, four-course affairs rounded off with coffee and a Gauloise.

“I know it’s not the same in other countries. I’ve seen crews in Britain eat their food by the side of the road. Unless it is too big a crew, in which case we prepare a self-service buffet, we always do sit down restaurant service,” says Grousset, who trained as a patisserie chef. He does his shopping through Metro, a wholesaler with outlets all over Paris.

French directors frequently insist local caterers follow them around the world. Grousset’s teams have been to Vietnam to cater during the filming of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s “The Lover” and Brazil for Francis Veber’s “Jaguar.”

And once foreign crews have sampled la cuisine francaise, they can’t get enough of it. “After we catered for ‘Sabrina,’ Sydney Pollack urged me to go to America, but none of us speaks English and I don’t think French caterers would have gone down very well with American unions,” says Grousset.

However, the crew on “Ocean’s Twelve” did get to sample Locafete’s catering, not only during the few days the movie shot in France, but throughout the main Dutch leg of the movie shoot as well.

“They were a bit uncertain about what they’d get from Dutch caterers so they hired us for the whole shoot,” says Grousset.

“George Clooney was charming,” he recalls. “After he’d finished eating, he got up and took his plate over to the washer-up. What a nice guy.”

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