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Kings of Pastry - Movie Review - 2009

Who Will Qualify To Be Meilleurs Ouvriers de France

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Kings of Pastry - Movie Review - 2009

Pastry Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer competes at the Meillieurs Ouvrieres De France.

Pennebaker Hegedus Films/First Run Features
The Meillieurs Ouvriers de France (Best Craftsmen of France) competition, held every four years, is a defining moment in the lives of master artisans working in a wide range of crafts, including pastry making. Master filmmakers Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker follow 16 master pastry makers as they prepared to meet the extreme challenges set for them by a panel of judges who will determine if they deserve the exclusive titles that so few can attain.

Pastry Making is High Art

Becoming a Meillieur Ouvrier de France is the most extremely difficult and challenging rite of passage in a pastry chef's professional life. In France, the competition is considered so extremely important that President Nicholas Sarkozy puts in an appearance.

Within a strictly limited time frame during the three-day contest day period, competing chefs must create an elaborate sugar sculpture, chocolate confection, wedding cake, cream puffs, bon bons and assorted other confections, all of which must be perfect treats for the eyes as well as the taste buds. This Meillieurs Ouvriers competition tests artistry and cooking skills -- and, it's the perfect recipe for an engaging documentary.

In Kings of Pastry, 16 masterful pastry makers are trying to win the exalted title, and the right to wear a special collar of red, white and blue (the colors of the French flag, as well as of our own Stars and Stripes).

Hegedus and Pennebaker create engaging profiles of several of the competing chefs, including Jacquy Pfeiffer, who heads up Chicago's French Pastry School, and Philippe Rigollot, acclaimed for his superb work at the famous Pic à Valence (Michelin 3 stars).

This is not a reality show-style cook off, where one winner takes home a huge monetary prize and the chance to open a restaurant. At the end of this competition, the judges can, at their discretion, award the Meillieur Ouvrier title to all, several or none of the competing chefs.

Who Deserves To Be King?

At the Meillieures Ouvriers competition, crowds admire sugar sculpture

Pennebaker Hegedus Films/First Run Features
So, the film is quite suspenseful, especially because the contestants are all tremendously skilled and very like able guys.

As their preparations progress and the competition heats up, we see clearly that the contestants are actually supportive of each other. They're there not to compete with each other, but with themselves. They must show their best stuff to the judges, who watch their every move and, in the end, will welcome them into the exclusive club, or not.

All of the judges are Meillieurs Ouvriers, and have been through the competition -- several times, in some cases -- to win their title. They clearly see themselves as mentors, as well as judges. They set stringent standards, but want the contestants to be good enough to join their highly-rated ranks.

Everyone participating in the competition respects greatness and wants greatness to emerge. The attitude is inspiring.

We get to watch the contestants strategize with their advisers, rehearse their preparations, set up their work spaces and create great food art.

The sugar sculpture is their most difficult task, and the most fascinating. We watch the chefs do things that seem impossible, using sugar and water to creating multicolored ribbons, exquisite flowers, bows, birds, butterflies, arches, towers and people. Their skill is absolutely amazing. And, the sculptures are so fragile they can fall apart with the most minor mishandling. So, when the chefs move their works of art from kitchen to display table, you hold your breath.

Obviously there are dramatic mishaps. No spoilers here, but several of the sculptures break, and the chefs must improvise instantly to find a way to make them worthy of display and judgment.

There's suspense until the end, when the names of those who pass the test are announced. In the end, not all of the 16 chefs are named Meillieurs Ouvriers. So, the awards ceremony is both celebratory and heartbreaking. You have to see the film to find out whether or not your favorite chef wins the coveted title of Meillieur Ouvrier de France.

Hegedus and Pennebaker tell the story sweetly and capture the delicious spirit of the chefs and judges. This is a delectable little gourmet feast of a documentary.

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Film Details:

  • Kings of Pastry
  • Directors: Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker
  • Release Date: Theatrical Release September 15, 2010
  • Running Time: 84 mins.
  • Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
  • Country: Netherlands, USA, UK, France
  • Location: Alsace, France
  • Language: English and French with subtitles
  • Production Company: Pennebaker Hegedus Films
  • Distributor USA: First Run Features
  • Trailer
  • Official Website

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