[27 February 2011]
“Chefs are the new rock stars.” That’s at least what Kings of Pastry co-director Chris Hegedus states in an interview that comes on the DVD. I don’t know if I’d go so far, though there is certainly a growing group of people who are becoming increasingly fascinated by food – where it comes from, how it’s made, and what of it is worth eating. Anyone with this set of interests who also spends substantial amounts of their free time watching the Food Network will find something to love in Kings of Pastry. Although the film fails to provide much more than satisfying food porn, that’s enough to make it worth watching.
The film follows Jacquy Pfeiffer,Regis Lazard, and Philippe Rigollot as they prepare for the Meilleur Ouvrier de France competition. Becoming a M.O.F, as they are called in shorthand, confirms you as an elite pastry chef in France. The prestigious award is handed out after a grueling three-day competition (one day begins at four in the morning) held every four years. The finalists prepare pastries, sugar sculptures, and other ornate, delicious looking food based artistry, and are judged by already ordained M.O.Fs.
If you enjoy watching the preparation of beautiful food, Kings of Pastry will be sure to satisfy on some level. The dishes that Pfeiffer and the other pastry chefs create are certainly inspiring and the film offers numerous chances to drool over them. Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker (the other half of the directing team) gush most, though, over the sculptures the chefs are required to construct (made, as far as I could discern, of sugar and sometimes chocolate). These soaring objects go far beyond food as a consumable item; the very fact that one could eat these feels like a crime.
Kings of Pastry is at its best when it works off the beauty and delicacy of what Pfeiffer and others makes. The sugar sculptures in particular are very fragile, capable of shattering with one misstep or overzealous hand motion. When you combine this with the tight time restrictions imposed by the M.O.F competition, well, things get pretty tense.
At other times, the discrepancy between the effort that goes into making these items and the relatively quick time it takes to consume them is put at the fore. When Pfeiffer’s coaches judge part of his test run, we watch them silently chew over one of his pastries and anxiously await their judgment. The test lasts all of 30 seconds. The coaches smile in approval and the scene ends.
Even earlier in the preparation phase, Pfeiffer spends what the director make look like hours preparing a sample of the cake he will be making in the competition. Right after, we watch him throw the large part of the cake out after having everyone try it.
These are only moments in the film, though. For the most part, Kings of Pastry does not take a step back from what it is documenting. This not only leads to a lack of critical commentary, which is not particularly necessary, but more importantly to a lack of context. We watch the sculptures and pastries being made with little to no idea as to what is going into them. In the case of the M.O.F competition, the audience is given minimal information about its specific requirements or how it is judged. As for the significance of winning, it is clear that the prize is prestigious but no more detail is added.
Ultimately, the beauty of the food and the pressure faced by the contestants only goes so far. Hegedus and Pennebaker take the approach of not adding to what the camera shows us in the moment. Their subject in this case, though, calls for accompanying commentary: not just to explain the details but also to get the audience more into the contestant’s minds. So while the film works wonderfully if you’re interested in the food, there was potential for it to provide more.
The extras, while scant, all add to the experience of the film in some way. The interview with Hegedus and Pennebaker includes an interesting discussion about the difference between their filming and editing process, while the video of Pfeiffer making a chocolate sculpture allows you to admire his work while he is not at the height of stress. The most interesting extra, though, is the Chocolate Fashion Show: Yes, women wearing chocolate clothing. Now there’s food porn, for you.