A documentary about food fanaticism and hanging around high caloric delicacies all day without gaining a single pound, Kings Of Pastry follows frantic eminent French dessert chefs about their kitchens for endless hours, as they compete for the highest baking award in the land. And while Americans may think Coney Island hot dog devouring races when hearing about a food contest, for the French it’s a distinctly more dignified affair.
And even if these hi-rise, look but don’t touch culinary creations tend to be more scrumptious art than tart, getting enlightened about another culture’s relationship with food that unlike ours, has less to do with mere appetite and consumption, serves up a pretty fascinating when not mouth watering screen venture. And a quality over quantity outlook on life when mulling what’s for dinner.
Directors Chris Hegedus and D A Pennebaker recorded one of the recent three day competitions – though they haven’t owned up to any sampling or snacking along the way – which is known as the M.O.F. (Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, or Best Workers). Bestowed by the French president himself for baking excellence, the award is feverishly pursued by leading chefs around the country with nearly religious zeal.
And though the documentary is somewhat half baked as it skimps as much on the psychological back story of these eccentric contenders as regarding those mystery recipes, there’s a sustained seductive lure to these proceedings beyond multi-sensory heightened viewer awareness. In particular, what’s with the French obsession around food while, unlike their plus size US counterparts, they stay primarily physically fat-free? One candid chef, Jacquy Pfeiffer, who plies his trade in both countries, readily summed up his own thoughts. ‘In France our philosophy is eat the best you can, but in small quantities, to keep your brain happy. All you can eat pigging out on a Saturday night, doesn’t exist here.’
So what goes down during the course of Kings Of Pastry, is besieged chefs racing to beat the clock as they prepare their ornate edible showpieces, from black and white chocolate swirling lovers to cartoonish lollipop clowns. This, while the judges have a more relaxing task as the pastry fashion police, just eating everything in sight, when not stifling tears because everybody deserves to win and can’t. Hey, it’s only food, dude.
But it’s not just about managing your mystique and accessorizing your cream puffs. These multi-tasking masters of exterior decorating apparently have to be accomplished in physics, engineering and at times sheer magic as well. Especially when the delicately woven food sculptures threaten to simply crumble – and do. Though a few enterprising chefs have gotten the knack of backup shock absorbers.
One question that lingers throughout this strictly controlled chaos, is why there are no women to be found along this elegant food chain. In any case, Kings Of Pastry keeps its food fetish festivities cheerful, even at its most glum when it comes to the losers, and washes everything down nicely with a chaser of upbeat vintage jazz.
First Run Features