Kings of Pastry

B Documentary

Directed by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker

Full Disclosure:I saw this film at a special screening Monday night at the Balboa, after which we were treated to some of the most incredible chocolate I have ever tasted. I’ll try to keep that from effecting my review.

You may have seen, or heard of, two shows on The Food Channel called Iron Chef and Ace of Cakes. Combine the two, and slow down the editing for people not suffering from ADD, and you’ve got Kings of Pastry.

Actors want Oscars, singers want Grammies, and every pastry chef in France wants the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (abbreviated MOF, and translated roughly as "Best Craftsman in France"). This award marks you as a creator of truly great baked deserts–as pleasing to the eye as to the palette.

Legendary documentarians Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker joined forces (not for the first time) to document the grueling three-day event where 16 chefs strove for kingsofpastrythe coveted medal and collar. This is an unusual subject for both of them. Hegedus does primarily political documentaries (The War Room, Al Franken: God Spoke), while Pennebaker is best known for two rock music films he made back in the 1960’s: Don’t Look Back, Monterey Pop.

The MOF event is not a competition. The judges will give this award to any contestant they believe has earned it. The chefs provide each other with moral support, and the judges seem to care deeply that everyone does well. When disaster hits one chef, everyone reacts with genuine compassion.

Which isn’t to say that this is a pre-school sporting event where everyone gets a prize. Only a handful of the sixteen contestants—all of whom beat out plenty of others to get this far–will receive the MOF.

Hegedus and Pennebaker focus on one of these contestants: Jacquy Pfeiffer. A Frenchman now teaching at a culinary school in Chicago, Pfeiffer returns to his native land to follow a life-long dream. He comes off as a likeable man, hard-working but well-rounded. He has a life outside of his career, including a loving girlfriend and children. But he’s hardly the sort of fascinating character who can really carry the center of a documentary. If he had been, I probably would have given Kings of Pastry an A.

But the movie’s real stars aren’t the people, but their creations. These aren’t pastries in the sense of what you would normally buy at a bakery. These are sculptures made out of fattening materials. How these artists manipulate assorted forms of sugar, chocolate, butter, and flour into swirling waves, soaring birds, and other creations is just amazing. The results look beautiful, but to be honest, they’re not really appetizing.

On the other hand, the chocolate served after the screening didn’t look exceptional, but was delicious. It was from a local company called Tcho. I’d give it an A+.

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