“A crème puff is very basic, and you have to dress it up, but not to be different from what it is.”
In the wide world of cooking reality shows on television, and food movies in general, “The Kings of Pastry” is a small but mighty contribution.
This 85-minute documentary film by D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus is a first-time inside look at a competition between professionals, Meillerus Ouvrieres de France.
In this case, the competition is to find the best pastry craftsmen of France. Previous winners are known by the prized “tricolores” red, white, and blue collar on their chef garb and judges come from this elite group and other renowned chefs.
The film follows pastry chef finalists Jacquy Pfeiffer (co-founder of Chicago’s French Pastry School), Regis Lazard, and Philippe Rigollot (from Maison Pic, France’s only three start restaurant owned by a woman).
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Despite the title of the film and the fact that women chefs do not figure in this particular competition held every four years, one imagines that there must be some great female pastry chefs in France.
The chefs plan, design, and practice their pieces and then begin the grueling final days, which are timed, under constant scrutiny of the judges. The creations are judged blindly when it comes to taste, and the judges are instructed not to grade the cakes by comparison. I think these judges must be highly skilled indeed.
When one of the finalists drops his sugar sculpture in practice and another at almost the very end it is devastating. Even the judges are brought to tears.
The pieces, or products as the head judge calls them, are stunningly beautiful -- a fusion of candy that is blown and molded like glass, mousse, and pastry. They look like the most beautiful of floral arrangements with sleek lines that depict movement and grace, brilliant color, chocolate, and mouth-watering images that delight.
One chef says at the beginning: “You eat the best every day, but a little, so your brain is always happy. You don’t stuff yourself.”
If you love food and admire the human endeavor of chefs to create art in the kitchen, who strive to be the best -- and brave and compassionate when they fail, “The Kings of Pastry” will inspire you.
In French with English subtitles (though some speak English).
In limited release opening October 8.