I have watched a lot of Food Network shows in my day, especially the competition formats.
Iron Chef. Food Network Star. Last Cake Standing.
But they are all child’s play compared to the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (Best Craftsman in France) competition featured in Kings of Pastry, which I discovered quite by accident last night on HBO OnDemand.
The 2010 documentary was directed by D A Pennebacker and Chris Hegebus, who brought us the Oscar-nominated documentary The War Room, about the 1992 presidential campaign of President Bill Clinton.
Surprisingly, Kings of Pastry is just as griping, tense and dramatic as any political campaign — maybe more so.
Becoming a M.O.F. is the pinnacle of a French pastry chef’s career, and the three-day competition is a grueling test for even the finest artisan. The film follows Jacquy Pfeiffer, an award-winning French chef and instructor at Chicago’s highly regarded French Pastry School, as he prepares for and completes the competition.
The directors also filmed two other finalists preparing for the M.O.F.: French chefs Regis Lazard — there for the second time after dropping his sugar sculpture and being eliminated during his first attempt — and Philippe Rigollot, the pastry chef at the renowned restaurant, Maison Pic.
The stress that the M.O.F. puts on the chefs and their families is immense. To say there were a few tears shed is an understatement, especially by the competition judges, who seemed to live each success and failure of the 16 chefs involved.
Their final work is exacting and beautiful to behold — but I would argue the process is the true art.