Pastry-making is not for sissies.
You'll see grown men weep over broken sugar sculptures in Kings of Pastry, a new documentary about the killing competition to become one of the best among pastry chefs in France. Those who are chosen will wear the distinctive blue, white and red MOF collar on their chef jackets, a symbol that they have won a Meilleurs Ouvriers de France -- the best craftsmen in France.
This is a very serious business. Chris Hegedus and DA Pennebaker capture the lead-up to the competition, which takes place in Lyon. One of the chefs the filmmakers focus on is Jacquy Pfeiffer, who lives and works in Chicago. He is one of the 16 chefs who has made the cut for the final competition, and he goes to his childhood home in Alsace to practice.
Jacquy talks about how much he'll miss his daughter Alex, as he won't see her for several weeks. He also explains that he has convinced his girlfriend to tell him every night, very seriously, that the MOF has been cancelled; it's the only way he can sleep at night without having nightmares.
Later in the story we meet a chef named Regis Lazard, who failed his first attempt at winning a MOF when he dropped and broke his sugar sculpture. He talks about the nightmares that have plagued him since, whenever he has to work with sugar. Regis has decided to try for a MOF a second time. Another competitor the viewer gets to know is Philippe Rigollot, who more or less grew up in the bakery where his mother worked and whose wife is also a pastry chef.
From Jacquy, a stand-up guy who philosophizes about the nature of cream puffs, we learn what will be required from the chefs during the three-day competition in Lyon. It is daunting.
The chefs work without a break to create wedding cakes, chocolate sculptures, sugar sculptures and an endless number of other desserts, pastries, sweets and edible art. Trickiest item appears to be the sugar showpiece, as sugar is difficult to work with in the first place and then brittle and easily broken once sculpted. (The tension and pressure at the competition are such that when a sugar sculpture does break, most of the men have tears in their eyes and a handful weep. It's incredible.)
The MOF is only held every three or four years. As one of the chefs says of the competitor who's on his fourth MOF try, "That's 16 years of his life."
These guys are obsessed.
And by bringing a viewer right into the kitchen, filmmakers Hegedus and Pennebaker get the viewer to be a little obsessed by it all, too. Kings of Pastry is a sweet little confection, bouncy and full of life, and a bit of a love letter to dessert.
Of course, you could see the film as taking the mickey out of the French -- just a tiny bit -- for being so serious about pastry. But that's speculation.