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Kings of Pastry

Release Year:   2009
Studio:   First Run Features
Format:   Colour; NTSC; Full Screen
Rated:   Not Rated
# of Discs:   1
Running Time:   84 m
DVD Release Date:   February 22, 2011

Directors:   Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker
Actors:   Jacquy Pfeiffer, Sebastien Canonne, Philippe Rigollot; Regis Lazard
DVD Features:   Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer creates a chocolate sculpture; Interview with filmmakers; Chocolate fashion show; Outtakes; Filmmaker biographies; Subtitled
E: Top Picks Rating:   10/10

First Run Features Write-up: 
D A Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus are simply the best – so when they turn their sights on the competition for the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (MOF), France’s Nobel Prize for pastry, you’re in for a treat. Sixteen chefs whip up the most gorgeous, delectable, gravity-defying concoctions, and there is edge-of-the-seat drama as they deliver their fantastical, spun-sugar desserts to the display table. The inevitable disasters prove both poignant and hilarious. (Courtesy of Film Forum)

Pennebaker and Hegedus secured exclusive access to shoot this epic, never-before-filmed test of France’s finest artisans. The film follows chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, co-founder of Chicago’s French Pastry School, as he journeys back to his childhood home of Alsace to practice for the contest. Also profiled is chef Regis Lazard, who is competing for the second time (he dropped his sugar sculpture the first time), and chef Philippe Rigollot, from Maison Pic, France’s only three-star restaurant owned by a woman.

During the grueling final competition, chefs work under constant scrutiny by master judges, whose critical palates evaluate their elaborate pastries. Finally, these pastry marathoners racing the clock must hand carry all their creations including their fragile sugar sculptures through a series of rooms to a final buffet area without shattering them. The film captures the high-stakes drama of the competition – passion, sacrifice, disappointment, and joy – in the quest to become one of the Kings of Pastry.

Jon Ted Wynne Review: 
You want to make a documentary film. You want the subject to have broad appeal. You want drama, suspense, comedy, exhilaration, passion, pathos and triumph.

In short, you want to make a film about the pursuit of excellence, even perfection.

So you make a film about pastry chefs? Yes!

The Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Craftsman in France) is a century-old competition that encourages artisans in a myriad of professions (including pastry chefs) to compete for the grand prize: recognition that you are one of the best at what you do. The winning pastry chefs are awarded a special collar which they then wear with pride, a symbol of accomplishment and a very, very great honour. There is no cash awarded. The prestige is all.

Whether you’re an artist or an artisan, an athlete or in business, most people can identify with wanting to be the best. That’s why, even if you can’t boil water, you can appreciate what drives each of the sixteen (out of seventy) finalists documented in KINGS OF PASTRY as they prepare for the ultimate challenge in this unique competition.

The U.S. filmmakers find the perfect way into this decidedly European subject by focusing on a transplanted Frenchman, Jacquy Pfeiffer, who, though French by birth (the competition is only open to French citizens) now lives in the U.S. where he founded the French Pastry School in Chicago. We quickly learn that he is a finalist in the 2008 competition.

Those who advance to the final are given several months to plan and practice their ideas and designs. We learn Jacquy’s reasons for wanting to participate in the prestigious competition and the sacrifices that his friends and family have made on his behalf. He is one very determined individual.

Along the way we meet some of the other competitors. We begin to care about them, which is vital if we are to share their disappointments, anxieties and excitement.

The competition is intense, with creativity and efficiency counting as much as taste and texture. Some of the elaborate pastry sculptures–in which everything must be edible–have to be seen to be believed. It is amazing how much tension is created in the film, wondering if any of the sculptures will collapse. And if they do, what can be done about it?

Needless to say, such mishaps occur, but the ability to improvise and cover up one’s mishaps is seen to be almost as valuable a skill as the ability to come up with the original design.

Nervous breakdowns in the kitchen, you say? Temper tantrums? Tears? This is high drama indeed, when the stakes are so high.

KINGS OF PASTRY is an incredible “feel good” movie. You find yourself rooting for any number of the chefs. They are driven, after all, to be the best they can be: an admirable quality.

One flaw is that the final food presentations are not photographed with any particular adjustment in lighting. This is understandable given that it is a documentary, recording a lightning-paced event as it unfolds. Still, careful lighting would have made some of the incredible food designs even more palatable-looking.

I also think the film should come with a warning: “Before viewing this film, please stock up on éclairs, cupcakes, pastry, etc. Otherwise you will be salivating throughout.”

I made up for this oversight the next day. For days afterward I couldn’t get KINGS OF PASTRY out of my head or my taste buds. (As long as the cream puffs lasted…)

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