‘Kings of Pastry’ a must-see

Imagine a sort of Olympic games between men, yes, only men, who spend three intense days being put through a pentathalon of making precious little confections, creamy rich chocolate delights and towering sugar sculptures.  And there won’t be one winner, but several because this is prestigious Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition (Best Craftsmen in France). This wondrous documentary, the 2009 “Kings of Pastry” is a first-time view of one such MOF competition and is a must-see for lovers of fine food, the French and, especially pastry.

Meilleurs Ourvriers de France was established in 1924 and today includes everything from pastry-making, to wood carpentry, lace and hand embroidery to printing on fabrics, to artisanal copperware to women’s hairstyling to jewelry making and even taxidermy.

In each case, the applicant is invited and given a specific time and basic materials to create a masterpiece or masterpieces that must be close to perfection. The winners gets to wear a special jacket with a tricolored collar given to only the MOFs.

In this particular year, 2007, 70 applicants were whittled down to 16 chefs. The competition was being held in Lyon, France and the theme of the competition was a wedding.

Filmmakers Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker were the first people allowed to film this intense pastry chef competition, initially drawn to it after hearing about Jacquy Pfeiffer, one of the co-founders of Chicago’s French Pastry School who was preparing for the competition. He is being coached by his partner, Sébastien Canonne, who had previously won the title.

Don’t expect the wild antics, the rages of the TV reality chef shows. Pastry chefs are a different sort. They are people who must deal with the mysteries of sugar and humidity and understand both physics and chemistry while creating precious little jewels or impressive sculptures.

Besides Pfeiffer, who moved to the U.S. from France in the 1990s and returns to his childhood home in Alsace to practice, the film follows to competitors who still live in France: Philippe Rigollot and Regis Lazard. For Rigollot, like Pfeiffer, this is his first time in the competition. For Lazard, who was being coached by the pastry chef for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, it is the second. He recounts how he was so tired on the third and final day, that he lost his balance and dropped his sugar showpiece sculpture, shattering it.  Rigollot is the pastry chef of the only three-star restaurant in France owned by a woman, Maison Pic, and grew up dreaming of being a MOF chef.

This movie is intense and shows a kind of competition that is filled with camaraderie between the contestants and judges. There is one particularly emotional moment that may move you to tears and give you a new appreciation for pastries.

“Kings of Pastry” is available as an individual DVD on First Run Features or as part of a special box set “Culinary Masterpieces.”

Local bakeries and pastisseries we recommend:

Aux Delices

  • 16 W. Colorado Blvd.
  • Pasadena, CA 91105
  • 626-796-1630

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