Kings of Pastry (Review)

First Run Features, 2009, Not Rated

The French Ministry of Labor bestows the title, Le Meilleur Ouvrier de France, on the top craftsmen in France. Textile designers, photographers, woodworkers, masons, graphic artists, florists and beyond can all strive for the honor. Pastry chefs hoping to become M.O.F.s must submit to a competition held every four years that tests both skill in the kitchen and the artistry and taste of the food prepared. It’s a rigorous challenge, but the select few who succeed can wear the coveted red, blue and red neckband marking them as one of the supreme chefs in France, if not the whole world.  

Kings of Pastry explores this event deliciously.

Legendary documentarian D.A. Pennebaker (Dont Look Back, The War Room) and his wife, Chris Hegedus, follow chefs hoping to earn M.O.F. status, with particular focus on Jacquy Pfeiffer, co-founder of Chicago’s French Pastry School. The pair observes the serious but affable Pfeiffer through months of preparation, fine-tuning exquisite delights under the strict, couching eyes of past M.O.F. honorees. His cream puffs, sugar sculptures and other treats look tantalizing, but they receive intense scrutiny. Creating the perfect pastry is hard work and witnessing their re-working and re-testing allows for a greater appreciation of their meticulous design.

The pressure increases when Pfeiffer returns to his native France for further training and the event itself. While here, Pennebaker and Hegedus turn their cameras on two other chefs — one from France, the other from Luxembourg — vying for the title. It’s a brilliant move.

Widening the narrative increases tension by showing Pfeiffer’s friendly rivals, but it also reveals their respect and camaraderie. All are in it to win it, but they pull for each other hard. This is especially true when delicate creations fall apart during the mentally and physically exhausting three-day competition, shattering lifelong dreams. The affected chefs are devastated, but equal tears flow in the eyes of their competitors. The final M.O.F. honor eludes many of the chefs, but they leave the competition strengthened with hearts as rich as their creations. Grade: A

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