Every four years in France, a unique competition known as Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (MOF) is held for craftsmen in a long list of different specialty trades and skills. Filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus worked together to produce an entertaining and informative documentary style film that highlights the importance and extremely high-stakes of this competition for French pastry chefs. The “Kings of Pastry” delivers the drama and emotions that exists among these highly-skilled pastry chefs directly to the viewer, leaving you on the edge of your seat as they create extravagant pastry masterpieces and sometimes watch them crumble before their eyes.
Centered around the co-founder of the French Pastry School in Chicago, Jacquy Pfeiffer, as he prepares for the 2007 MOF competition, “Kings of Pastry” follows Pfeiffer back to his childhood home in Alsace, France where he begins training and refining his pastry skills prior to the competition. Gaining valuable knowledge from a previous MOF winner and Pfeiffer’s fellow co-founder of the Chicago school, Sébastien Canonne, Pfeiffer heads back to France in order to train using French ingredients since some French ingredients are slightly different than their American counterparts, and these subtle differences can cause huge changes when it comes to the chemistry of baking and pastry-making.
Perfectly transitioning from a spotlight on Pfeiffer’s preparation, the film moves into the competition period, which spans three days and is centered around a theme. Since the theme of the specific year they chose to film was marriage, the pastry chefs were tasked with making a whole wedding buffet, which includes a wedding cake, chocolate sculpture, sugar sculpture, cream puffs, chocolate candies, breakfast pastries with jam, tea pastries, dessert plate, and a small creative sculpture. While each of these tasks involves an incredibly high degree of skill and knowledge, competitors must not only pay close attention to perfecting the visual aspects of their creations, but they are also judged on taste as well. Along with this, the judges, who are world-renowned pastry chefs Jacques Torres, Pascal Niau, and Pierre Herme, closely watch the whole process from the beginning, critiquing and meticulously watching all of the sixteen finalists, taking into account cleanliness and efficiency as they decide who will earn the title of Un des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (One of the Best Craftsmen of France). Even though it is a competition, it’s easier to think of it like a test, since more than one pastry chef can earn the title, and it is based on a score from the judges that includes every aspect of the baking and assembly process. While you will truly empathize with some of the pastry chefs who fail, as some of the sculptures crumble before their eyes, the film delivers on the extreme joy that is felt when some succeed.
If you are a fan of cooking shows, you will find immense excitement and joy from watching the “Kings of Pastry.” Much of this is due to Pennebaker and Hegedus’ incredible ability to truly capture the intensity and importance of the competition, as well as the deep emotions of the pastry chefs. Some pastry chefs work their entire lives for the honor to be known as Un des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, and the film brings viewers into their lives, experiencing the stress and anxiety of such an intense competition, as well as the ultimate joy and pride of the ones who successfully achieve such an honor. It is truly a remarkable and gripping film, one that is perfect for anyone who enjoys the world of French cuisine and cooking competitions, while at the same time standing apart from other cooking shows and competitions, since the “Kings of Pastry” is a much more unique, informative, and interesting film to enjoy.