Kings of Pastry
When Audrey Hepburn’s soufflé refuses to rise at the Paris cooking school in Sabrina, it’s cute. When a young chef’s confectionary sculpture collapses in Kings of Pastry, it’s a culinary Pearl Harbor. It is also the high (and low) moment of this documentary.
Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker are married documentary veterans (The War Room, etc.) who film an elite contest for pastry chefs held every four years, the M.O.F. (Best Craftsmen in France). For three days in Lyon, the invited masters concoct virtually Proustian goodies and build lavish, fragile displays that they must carry, at high risk, to buffet tables. It is clock-driven, grueling work, and while the sweet treats are tempting, by film’s end I wanted something salty or a salad.
Certain figures are followed closely, notably a fretful Alsatian who runs a pastry school in Chicago, but it is the group that stars — the fraternity of cooks and judges. At the prize ceremony, the head judge gets so amped, you’d think he was announcing the return of Charles de Gaulle. This handsome movie has French flair. It is also a wedding cake with 16 grooms and no brides. No females have competed, ever. By not examining that and other issues (such as why much of the sugary art is kitsch), the makers are left, finally, a few cookies short.