My hands flew to my face several times last night.
It was 1:30 AM and I’d made a mistake. At midnight, exhausted after testing four recipes, I loaded up “Kings of Pastry” on AppleTV just to see if it was something I wanted to watch. To say that I was immediately hooked would be a profound understatement; I was so engrossed, that by 1:30 my heart was beating so fast and I was biting my nails so nervously, there was no way I’d ever get to sleep.
“Kings of Pastry,” directed by legendary filmmakers D A Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus (and associate produced by Rebecca Lando of Working Class Foodies, who I met here) covers familiar ground if you’ve ever watched any of those Food Network cake-decorating shows where pastry chefs have to carry enormous cake sculptures over to a table before they can be judged. Only instead of working on a cake for a few hours in a studio, the competitors in “Kings of Pastry” have been working for three years–sometimes longer–to prepare for the challenge they’re about to undertake.
The movie centers around the the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition, which translates to “Best Craftsmen in France” and is known, amongst French pastry chefs, as MOF.
We begin with Jacquy Pfeiffer who co-runs a French pastry school in Chicago and who puts himself through drill after drill in anticipation of flying to France to compete. We watch him make an elaborate wedding cake, dome-shaped, filled with raspberry jam and pastry cream and sponge cake and a dacquoise; we watch him coat the whole thing in white chocolate and then spray the whole thing with a second layer of edible lacquer. It takes hours. Then he cuts a slice for his coach, who scrutinizes it. Pfeiffer dumps the rest of the cake in the trash. I literally gasped.
But my gasps grew louder the closer we got to the actual tournament. I had the same feeling in my chest that I had the night before my S.A.T.s. This is a stressful movie! These people have worked so incredibly hard to be here; there are 16 of them competing and only a few of them, maybe less, will win the honor of wearing the special collar you get to wear if you win. “If you wear that collar and you haven’t won? You can be arrested,” jokes one French pastry chef to the camera. Only you get the impression that he’s not joking.
What I found most moving about the whole ordeal was the community of pastry chefs who rally to support the competitors. There are the pastry chefs who’ve already won the MOF who coach the competitors as they train; then there are the pastry chefs who are there judging. During one climactic moment, the moment that had my hands flying to my face in horror, it’s astonishing to see how supportive and loving the senior MOF-members can be. When, at the end (and this isn’t really a spoiler) the head of the jury reads out the names of the winners, he has to fight back tears, he’s so emotional.
I was emotional too. I didn’t expect to get as caught up in “Kings of Pastry” as I did, but by the time my head hit the pillow at 1:45 I had visions of towering sugar sculptures dancing through my head. And sure I didn’t fall asleep for another hour, but only because I was exhilerated. My advice: watch this movie, but start at a more reasonable hour.