Judge Roy Hrab won the coveted title of "King of Eating Pastry" at an undisclosed bakery in an undisclosed year.
Sixteen chefs. Three days. One chance.
There's always room for dessert. Whether it be cookies, cakes, cream puffs, puddings, ice creams, brownies, pies, truffles, macaroons, donuts, and, for some, simply anything with chocolate, everyone has a favorite delectable. Unfortunately, few of us spend the time to create such treats anymore. Picking-up something from the store, usually of the frozen variety, is pretty much the status quo now. It's rare that we think of all the effort that went into making these delightful goods.
Kings Of Pastry takes a look at true dessert artisans. Of course, this must, by necessity, involve the French. Specifically, it provides a fleeting glimpse into the quest of a group of French pastry chefs to achieve the title of "Un des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France" (One of the Best Craftsmen of France), or "MOF," for short. A MOF competition is held every four years. Chefs go through a qualification process in order to proceed to the finals. In the final round, the scoring system is such that it possible for all, or none, of the finalists to achieve the title of MOF. The title is retained for life. Thus, the nature of the MOF competition is rather collegial and more akin to a final exam for a degree rather than a confrontational Hell's Kitchen brawl.
Kings Of Pastry presents the 2008 MOF pastry finals with an emphasis on three chefs: Jacquy Pfeiffer, Regis Lazard and Philippe Rigollot. The focal point is Pfeiffer, who lives and works in Chicago. Prior to the actual competition the bulk of the action revolves around Pfeiffer's preparation for the finals, how much time he has put into his efforts, and establishing the importance of achieving the MOF title.
When we join Pfeiffer he is putting the final touches on some recipes, including his cream puffs and multi-layer wedding cake dome. At the same, he's working to perfect his chocolate and sugar sculptures, which seem less than structurally sound during his practice runs. Assisting Pfeiffer are two colleagues that have already achieved the title of MOF. They critique his work and preparation, sometimes quite bluntly. However, time is of the essence, and Pfeiffer is soon packing up equipment and ingredients, saying goodbye to his wife and kids, and making his way to France. It's a fast-paced and engaging setup.
One would expect the picture to start building pressure and momentum at this point, but it doesn't. The problem is that directors D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus (The War Room) don't know what to once they get into the competition kitchen. There is a seemingly endless collection of random shots of chefs whisking custards, piping cream, and plating pastries. The chefs look nervous to be sure, and the judges stalking about add an additional element of tension.
Unfortunately, these clips don't build to anything because the film does not take the time to explain what the chefs are working on, the skill and attention to detail required, and how the time constraints influence their actions. There are a number of specific tasks that the chefs needs to complete as part of the competition, but the film reveals little about this. Pfeiffer, Lazard, and Rigollot provide some explanation, but one gets the impression that Pennebaker and Hegedus lack the understanding of patisserie and of the competition itself necessary to film and document the action in a compelling way. For example, they spend undo time on the precariousness of the sugar sculptures and virtually ignore the effort and skill involved in the other products, such as the pastries, plated desserts, and candy making. They also don't appear to have much appreciation for the chefs' need to sequence their tasks to meet time constraints as well as assemble and plate the desserts.
The lone genuinely dramatic moment captured occurs when Rigollot's sugar sculpture shatters in front of his eyes and everyone in the kitchen. All the chefs are genuinely shocked and empathize with Rigollot. For his part, Rigollot is devastated. Can he pull himself together? Even if he can recover, will he have enough time to salvage his MOF bid?
Technically, the film is barely adequate. The picture is presented in full frame. The color is on the soft and dull side for the most part. The audio is ok, but there's little for it to deliver aside from dialogue and a little bit of music.
A small set of extras is included on the DVD. There is a short interview with Pennebaker and Hegedus about the making of the film. In addition, there's a scene of Pfeiffer assembling a chocolate sculpture and some clips from a chocolate fashion show. Rounding out the extras are text biographies of the filmmakers.
Having done a fair amount of dessert making, I was engaged by Kings Of Pastry, but found it, on the whole, superficial and lacking focus. It would have been better to spend additional time on the intricacies of the bite-sized edible creations rather than the aesthetically striking, but, in my view, pretentious and superfluous, sculptures. Further, more time on the toll preparing for the MOF exerted on the personal relationships of the chefs involved would have been beneficial.
There's enough interesting moments here to keep one watching for the relatively short 84 minute running time, but there's more drama to be had on the Food Network.
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