I’m about as good of a movie “reviewer” as a French restaurant critic, but “The King of Pastry” is just a must see for the foodiot types emerging all over the country. Though if you loved Julie/Julia, don’t bother with this indie house film. Here’s a clip:
This is a documentary following 3 specific contestants (one Luxembourgian, a Frenchmen and a French-American residing in Chicago) participating as finalists in the Meilleur Ouvriers de France competition of 2007 (the year of the competition is not mentioned anywhere in order to make the document timeless). The competition is 3 days long, with a judging grand finale consisting of pastry “buffet” and a “chocolate piece”, wedding cake, pastry puffs, lollipops, “sugar piece”, and a buffet “centerpiece”. The winners (there are usually more than 1), chosen from a finalist group of 16, are given a chef’s collar sporting the drapeau tricolore colors. And a metal. And lots of applause, and fame. There are only 113 MOFs in the world. Sébastien Canonne of the French Pastry School in Chicago, the main protagonist’s coach, is one. Christian Faure of Le Cordon Bleu has a tricolore collar, as does the NYC’s favorite pastry chef, Jacque Torres.
One of my fave scenes has to be of 2 coaching chefs, sitting in a French countryside patisserie’s rear kitchen, gently critiquing their friend Jacquy Pfeiffer’s cream puff, cutting the puff in half, chewing, tasting & swallowing for an interminable amount of time (which translates to early slow pacing) in silence. Then one chef simply says: “there’s nothing to be said” or some such. The other is watching Jacquy Pfeiffer, co-founder of Chicago’s French Pastry School, testing the necessary-for-competition wedding cake’s recipe, cutting the cake in half after assembling for hours, merely to toss away a beautiful concoction. The audience gasped at the loss of half a cake, as did I.
Even if you don’t like sweets, there’s an light sense of mockery accompanying the severity and tradition of the competition that’s hard not to enjoy. The chefs themselves (one mentioned in the film spent the last 16 years competing in 4 MOFs) know they’re a bit obsessed. The judges are Gallic sardonic, but supportive and also seemingly nutty. The pastry chefs have wide & varied supporting staff doubling as perfect supporting actors. There’s joy, there’s studiousness, there’s pain — you will wince and groan – and there are tears of true sadness & respect on screen. If you do like dessert, or simply respect the work of culinary artisans (and I’m not talking about lawyer-turned-cupcaketresses, or unemployed bankers baking cookies for the website), the visuals alone will make you do the Pavlovian salivation. The story is just added sweetness and will most likely change your perspective on “what is good”.
I highly suggest reading about the MOF, as it adds to the suspense and gravitas. Wikipedia entry is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meilleur_Ouvrier_de_France
One the secondary characters in the movie now has his own patissierie: http://philipperigollot.com.