A documentary about a pastry competition might not sound like compelling cinema, but you’ll find yourself rooting for your favorite chefs, feeling the heartbreak of a shattered sugar sculpture, and on the edge of your seat as the winners of the prestigious Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (M.O.F.) competition, or Best Craftsmen in France, are announced.
Created in 1924, the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France began as a way to preserve the standard of French artisan trades. The pastry competition is considered one of the most rigorous of the M.O.F. contests. There are coaches, assistants, and the entire process takes two years—it’s the Olympics of pastry.
In Kings of Pastry, we follow three of 16 French pastry chefs as they travel to Lyon for three days of making chocolates, sugar sculptures, candies, and cakes, hoping to be declared the best by President Nicolas Sarkozy and awarded the blue, white and red striped collar. (Luis commented that in the States, the president meets and congratulates Superbowl winners.) This isn’t your grandma’s birthday cake, we’re talking serious artistry. Chefs take a ball of sugar and blow it into a figurine like glass artists and spend hours diagramming and baking their creations for the contest only to take a couple bites, critique it, and throw away the rest to start again.
One of the finalists, chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, cofounder of Chicago’s French Pastry School, travels to his hometown of Alsace six weeks before the contest to practice. I particularly liked what he said in the beginning of the film about the food culture in France: “The idea in France is to eat the best possible on a daily basis, but just in small quantities so your brain is happy,” he explains. “You don’t starve yourself and then eat like a pig at the all-you-can-eat on Saturday night. That doesn’t exist in France—they don’t exist, all-you-can-eat.”
Two other finalists profiled are chef Regis Lazard, competing again after dropping his sugar sculpture the first time, and chef Philippe Rigollot from Maison Pic.
I don’t want to spoil the end by telling which of the three chefs win the title of M.O.F., but I will say this film will give you a new appreciation for great pastry artisans and the work that goes into perfecting their craft.