French Soufflés and Sabrina

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

“A woman happy happy in love, she burns the soufflé. A woman unhappy in love, she forgets to turn on the oven.”

In Sabrina (1954), Audrey Hepburn plays a chauffeur’s daughter in love above her station. Unnoticed and brokenhearted, she goes to culinary school in Paris to forget. But even so far away, she can’t keep her mind on her cooking.

The class starts slowly with “the proper way to boil water,” and moves on to how to crack an egg (“wrist like a whip,” but Sabrina crushes it in her hand). Fast-forward a few months, and Sabrina’s at the toughest part of her training—mastering the soufflé. The students are lined up military-style in front of a long wall of ovens, but the professor (Marcel Hillaire) is temporarily overcome with excitement: “The soufflé, it must be gay. Gay like two butterfiles dancing in the woods in the summer breeze….” He begins to flap his hands, but then collects himself with a countdown: “5 seconds…4…3…2…To the ovens!”

The class stands holding their creations, but the professor is like Goldilocks on porridge: “too low…too pale…too heavy…too low…too high—you are exaggerating…fair… so-so…sloppy.” But just before he reaches Sabrina, he stops beside an elegant older man, a baron (Marcel Dalio, left). “Superbe!” Then he looks at Sabrina. Hers has not risen at all. “Much too low!” the professor pronounces. She forgot to turn on the oven.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

The Celluloid Pantry is a classic column that ran on The Kitchn from 2006 through 2007 that revisited many iconic moments of food and drink in films. We’re taking a trip back through some of our favorites this month, in anticipation of this year’s crop of Oscars. Enjoy!