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Kings of Pastry

Reviewed By Lybarger
Posted 10/09/10 09:26:02

"Bad for your health, great for the eyes."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

If Chicago-based pastry chef Jacquy Pfeiffer ever prepares your wedding cake, itís a safe bet that you and your spouse will never get divorced. Thatís not quite true. One bite of his craftsmanship might make you never want to leave the reception room.

While running a successful French pastry school in the Windy City might seem a wonderful career, he still wonít feel satisfied until he earns a red, white and blue collar that only the best confectioners in France can wear. The competition for that collar, known as Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (or Best Craftsmen in France), happens every four years and is so demanding but prestigious that French President Nicolas Sarkozy personally shows up to congratulate the winners.

With "Kings of Pastry," veteran documentarians Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker prove there is as much drama in this bake-off as there is any sporting competition. As they did with Bill Clintonís presidential campaign in their Oscar-nominated "The War Room," Hegedus and Pennebaker demonstrate that the most compelling moments in the competition happen when the public isnít around.

Unlike a typical offering on the Food Network, the two look at Pfeiffer, their main subject, affectionately and never shirk from presenting how hard he works for the honor. Even though the MOF is so grueling, thereís no money to go with the honor, and the chefs themselves have to spend money that could pay for a house simply for the honor of being in the game.

His long suffering girlfriend reveals that preparing for the MOF is so grueling that he is plagued by nightmares. The only way she can get him to return to sleep is by lying to him by saying that the competition has been cancelled. Itís too bad that they donít make those collars for the spouses as well as the chefs.

Much of the mental strain is due to the fact that MOF bakers donít merely stir up a mix and call it a cake. Many of their offerings are actually delicate sculptures that are as visually stunning as they are tasty. One of Pfeifferís cakes, for example, has individual layers of flavor that can taste radically different depending on how they are arranged. His competitor Philippe Rigollotís chocolate lollipops are so beautifully sculpted that it seems cruel to eat them.

While all 16 of the chefs can do amazing work, their raw materials are anything but stable. Depending on humidity levels, a food sculpture that stood strong one day can collapse during the actual bake off. If it werenít for the cameras, some of the chefsí most astonishing creations would be lost forever because they are either eaten or abandoned.

Unlike marble, food doesnít last for centuries.

Because Hegedus and Pennebaker get so close to these people, itís heartbreaking when one of their dishes emerges from the oven in tatters or cracks up on its way to the display room. Hegedus and Pennebaker, who both edited, also have a terrific eye for pacing and suspense. Even if you already know who the MOFs are, itís nail-biting to watch them get to the winnerís circle.

With all that is wrong in the world, itís great to know there are some people who treat their craft with enough care to make it the best. Itís true of the MOFs, and itís certainly true for Hegedus and Pennebaker.

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