Friday, 16 April 2010

'I have nothing more to say on the matter'

Kings of Pastry
Dir. Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker
(Pennebaker Hegedus Films 2009)

We follow three chefs in their quest to earn a M.O.F, a three day cooking contest in Lyons, where the best crafts man in France are recognised. It's a French pastry competition but this isn't anything to do with croissants, there are 16 contestants, all could win the coveted M.O.F, but only a few will be selected by the judges. The prize? You earn the right to wear the collar of the Meilleus Ouvriers de France, the prestigious, blue, white and red collar, an unsurprising colour combination for a French cooking competition.

The three chefs we follow all have an obsession, honing their cooking, striving for perfection to perform at this competition and earn a M.O.F. Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, founder/teacher/ of a Chicago-based French pastry school is the main subject. He obsesses over this competition, refining his sugar sculptures, cakes, Fabergé eggs, etc. His business partner at the school Sébastien Canonne, has the coveted M.O.F and acts as his mentor. While watching Jacquy's preparation, his dedication repelled rather than inspired, the sheer volume of waste he churned out, chucking recipe after recipe...A hybrid of American excess and French obsession. Regis Lazard, a second-time finalist again was obsessed over the competition but came over as slightly more human and well nice. Then there was Philippe Rigollot, a pastry chef from Maison Pic, a chef with obvious talent.

The beauty in the film, is seeing the level of obsession and men striving for excellence, it serves as a fascinating story. Competition is always a well trodden rubric for documentary, it creates drama and gives a good narrative structure: preparation – competition – aftermath. Shot on DV with a cheesy French soundtrack, courtesy of Django Reinhardt, the film could be more you-tube than cinema, and yet Kings of Pastry carries a discerning charm. The most poignant/powerful scene is when Philippe Rigollot drops his prized sugar sculpture on the last day of competition. The man proceeds to have a mental breakdown, you see him suffer, hyperventilate, struggle and panic – surely he will not get a M.O.F. But no..Philippe gets back on his horse salvages the sculpture and continues the competition. This was a beautiful scene, a man confronted with disaster and not throwing in the towel – he earns a M.O.F – and his triumph over adversity is a wonderful lesson in never conceding defeat.

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