In 'Kings of Pastry', directors Chris Hegedus and D.A Pennebaker not only offer us the personalities behind fine pastry, but we get to meet the absolute best and most talented chefs on earth. It can be an emotional experience when enjoying French pastry. The buttery glee within a chocolate croissant, the light and dizzy explosion of texture upon biting into a wispy macaroon, or the perfect balance of erotic essence that washes over your body when raspberry and vanilla mousse first kisses your tongue. If this sublime form of delight can be experienced on the receiving end of such artistry, imagine the passion that goes into creating these fleeting bits of confection.
In 'Kings of Pastry', directors Chris Hegedus and D.A Pennebaker not only offer us the personalities behind fine pastry, but we get to meet the absolute best and most talented chefs on earth. Every four years, 16 chefs who have devoted their lives to the tradition are welcomed to the 'Meilleur Ouvriers De France' competition, also simply known as 'Mof'. This award of craftsmanship excellence comes in the form of a simple collar that lets the world know the chef has a near-perfect level of expertise. The three-day event can take months to prepare for, and is very costly to the participants. The reward, though, is a lifetime of status.
The documentary focuses on several chefs, but keeps close tabs on Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, who runs the only French pastry school in North America. His journey to the competition in Lyon, France is marked with dozens of recipe lists, frantic time-trials for preparation, and a wide array of mouthwatering ingredients. As Pfeiffer builds the layers of his gorgeous and sinfully-decadent wedding cake we meet his fiancée and daughter, who show great patience for the long hours of commitment he must bank to be successful at the event. Other geniuses of the business stop by his kitchen to coach, ruthlessly tearing down his many creations in an attempt to focus the work.
When the actual competition gets underway, the anxiety level rises to cringe-worthy heights. Even as a viewer, one can feel the strain. The directors give us unprecedented access to the fever-pitch drama as stern judges watch closely, hovering over the nearby chefs who are reaching the breaking point of pressure. Emotional, mental and physical fatigue effects the group of 16, often to the point of tears.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, this is an all-male affair. With this masculine energy, 'Kings of Pastry' also comments on the emotional brotherhood that comes into play as patience wears thin and frustration causes mistakes.
For foodies, the most striking element of the film will be the breathtaking sugar structures each chef is responsible for. Absolute artistry goes into these sleek and spectacular presentations. Some chefs even use carpentry tools to assist in their assembly. Sanders, dremel tools and blowtorches are all at arms length as the men shape the various elements, melt sugar to create tasty glue, and stretch intricately-coloured edible ribbons into pleasing forms. Birds, butterflies, and the human body all make appearances in what is likely the most challenging chapter in the race.
The world of high-end pastry chefs is an absolute joy to view, despite moments of unbearable stress both for the men competing and the viewer witnessing. 'Kings of Pastry' is a reminder of just how artistic the culinary world can be, and that taste and presentation must work in a symbiotic relationship to be most effective.
'Kings of Pastry' screens on Friday, May 7 at 11AM at the ROM Theatre.
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