Kings of Pastry: A Personal Quest

Kings of Pastry: A Personal Quest

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As you probably already know, the French take food very seriously. French cuisine is about high quality and small portions, each piece expertly crafted so as to feed your desire for aesthetics (visual, olfactory and gustatory) as much as your hunger. In fact, food is so important that naming the best chefs is of national concern. The Meilleurs Ouviers de France is an intense exam to determine the finest craftsmen in France, from tailoring, to woodworking to hairstyling and even pastry.  Posing as a MOF (for short) winner is an offense punishable by law! The MOF for desserts and baked goods is the subject of Kings of Pastry.

The story follows three world-class pastry chefs on their quest to receive the highest honor in their field. Jacquy Pfeiffer, who is the main focus of the film, and Sebastien Canonne head The French Pastry School in Chicago which is the only culinary school in the United States dedicated to desserts and baked goods. Canonne has already received his MOF and assists Pfeiffer by coaching and consulting him during his preparations. Phillippe Rigollot works at Maison Pic, which is famous for its head chef, Madame Pic, who is the first woman to have a 3 star restaurant in France. Chef Regis Lazard is attempting the MOF for the second time, after dropping his sugar sculpture show piece in the previous competition.  The MOF happens every 4 years, so much like the Olympics, most of the off-time is spent training. The MOF is unique in the way of competitions – chefs have teams, coaches and assistants to help them practice and design. It is like a team sport, but only on person is elevated in the end. Even though only one person in  the group is honored, all those associated with a MOF chef benefit from that rise in status. The MOF is also unique is that the chefs are not competing against one another – only for their own prestige. In this way, the MOF is able to maintain a certain camaraderie and a sincere happiness for another person’s accomplishments.

In one scene we see Chef Pfeiffer strategically planning the flavor of his wedding cake. Since the judges will be tasting 15 other cakes, usually heavy chocolates, he decides to make his custard and fruit. In this way, he feels his lighter flavor will be a much appreciated reprieve from the others. Strategy plays a huge part of “game day” of the MOF. All the recipes have to be planned out ahead of time to be unique, surprising, delicious and be the perfect representation of the chef’s skill in that one dessert. Chefs must also go through dozens of run-throughs to make sure he is able to finish all of his requirements within the allotted time. To be a pastry chef at this level, the highest level combines a multitude of other disciplines outside of what one would usually think of in baking – it is a combination of conceptual art, design, architecture, math, science and physical and emotional endurance.

Probably the most difficult moment in the film to watch is when Chef Rigollot places his huge, gorgeous sugar sculpture on the work table and it suddenly cracks. The entire top piece shatters and he shatters emotionally with it. The piece represented hours upon hours of work, different versions and redesigns and was truly a masterpiece. It was all the other chefs could talk about and their concern was him was obviously sincere. One of the teary-eyed judges  (all of whom are MOF winners themselves) expressed his sympathies but then told Rigollot to go ahead and make something out of what was left, because he was too talented to let this destroy him. He is able to pull something together and does end up being awarded the coveted collar. Not all the other chefs are as lucky. Chef Lazard is turned down for the second time, having already dedicated 8 years in pursuit. Chef Pfeiffer is also not awarded a MOF collar, which is later credited to his voice not coming through. The influence from Chef Cannone and the rest of his team is too strong. Above all, the MOF is intended to congratulate an individual as a representative of the French people. Having a unique, proud voice is just as important as having strong intellect and manual skill.

Kings of Pastry is an interesting look at a prize completely unique to the French culture and somewhat outside American sensibility. The MOF is not so much as a competition as it is a personal challenge. It’s about deciding on a goal and putting all your energy into achieving it. To lose is to lose to yourself because you know you could have done better. To win is to be able to show the world, at a glance, exactly on which tier you stand.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Fabulous review! I just watched this most fascinating documentary last week. I appreciate your perspective. The comparison with the Olympics is interesting, as are your thoughts on team sports where an individual is elevated at the end- very much like the Tour de France which is currently capturing much of my attention.

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