The artistry of food and cooking competition has become a new unofficial sport in recent years. Adding a certain level of competition made reality TV shows like Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen and The Food Network’s Iron Chef a popular, viable and highly entertaining option when watching television. Which brings us to the new documentary, Kings of Pastry, opening this Wednesday at The Film Forum in New York City. This is the new film by legendary documentary filmmakers Chris Hegedus (The War Room and Startup.com) and D.A. Pennebaker (Don’t Look Back and Monterey Pop) is an insightful and intense look at the competitive and stressful world of the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, the highest honor for French pastry chefs. And when I say stressful and intense, I mean it. This is the Hurt Locker or The Wages of Fear of French pastry documentaries.
The film follows pastry chef, Jacquy Pfieiffer, the co-founder of Chicago’s French Pastry School, the only French pastry school in the United States. His journey to getting accepted into this prestigious competition (it is held every four years) to going back to his hometown to practice and prepare to entering the never-before-filmed three day contest itself. The drama created by competition alone is worth the price of admission but the sheer level of artistry and craftsmanship on display in this film is a sight to see. This is food porn for foodies: gorgeous, exciting and excessive.
In this three day contest, pastry chefs from all over France come to showoff their skills and methods while at the same time continuously being judged and examined by past Meilleurs Ouvriers de France. Leering behind shoulders and whispering comments to their colleagues, these blue, white and red collared (the mark of past winners) masters add a different level of stress to the competitor’s work. Imagine using a technique you have practiced and mastered over and over again in front of the actual person who invented that technique.
What makes this film about pastry chefs so gripping and engrossing is the competition itself. Three days spent on a different ingredient or speciality, chocolate, cakes and sugar. In constructing elaborate and intricate sculptures made of sugar is beautiful, dazzling and unique but the transportation of the sculpture from the kitchen to the show floor is heart stopping, intense and spellbinding. Precision is the name of the game. If you are off by just as little as a centimeter then everything will collapse along with your hope and dreams in becoming a Meilleurs Ouvriers de France winner.
King of Pastry is an informative and highly entertaining documentary. My only criticism is it is not as cutting edge as the reality TV shows I mentioned. This is more of a criticism of myself for being conditioned to watch cooking competitions in a certain way. This is not a reality show, there is no hero and there are no villains. This is a competition between great pastry chefs with a great understanding and respect for each other. Worth watching during this very limited engagement at The Film Forum in New York City.
[WARNING: This Trailer Contains Numerous Spoilers. Watch at Own Risk!!]
Kings of Pastry has a very limited release and is opening on Wednesday September 15th @The Film Forum in New York City.