Let me preface this review by saying one thing: I was utterly starving the. entire. movie. This film was an ocular feast, weaving together the stories of these chefs' quest for excellence as carefully and sweetly as the delicate sugar concoctions that they created. My fellow foodies agreed: This was the Food Network meets Fashion Week. Following the lives of three chefs in their endeavor to compete in a 3 day competition to win the prestigious Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition. A medal would solidify their position in the culinary arena as one of the best pastry craftsmen in France and the world. The film highlights chefs Jacquy Pfeiffer, Regis Lazard, and Philippe Rigollot and their families during their training and moments of triumph and heartbreak. This film encapsulates the unforgiving world of taste, texture, and the unrelenting desire for perfection. The task is daunting: create one of the most intricate and gravity-defying sugar-based desserts, a sculpture that is both sweet to the eye and tongue. The viewer sees the massive amount of effort that goes into this arduous task: from the plotting, planning, revising, rejections, and finally the grand finale: the final course. As one of the jury members notes, "Your mind has to work as hard as your hands." This movie seems to be less about the food itself but rather about the unparalleled attention to artistry that these men have incorporated into every facet of their lives. They are not providing the meat and bones of culinary consumption. They are not slicing and dicing to satiate a customer's craving. It is about the visual, the aesthetic, the sweetness of their labor which the citizens of France are completely and continually enraptured by. Their passion and precision is alluring and their final creations cater to our own appreciation for the dainty and delicious while inciting our romanticism of this otherworldly aesthetic.
For me this movie showed me the all-encompassing efforts that are made in the quest for this culinary art. But I think what is also interesting is the aura of comfort that fuels this contest. We see their ultimate devotion to reviving our senses of taste, vision and I would even say memory. Pastries are one of the few cultural productions that have long been imbedded into our domestic psychology: it is a marker of candied celebration, it is nectarous nostalgia, it is comforting coziness, and when all is said and done, it is home. This film is by far one of my tops films for 2011 thus far. It showed not only the complexities of baking, but also provided an insight into our perpetual desire for simple sweetness in both aesthetic and sustenance. During one of my favorite scenes, Chef Pfeiffer, after spending hours concocting a dome wedding cake, brings it back to his modest home in Chicago. Pfeiffer's daughter perfectly summarizes our intense yet oblivious reverence for this art: as she peers into the box, she quietly murmurs: "It's pretty. Simple." The film is quite pretty, but far from simple, and is one that can be enjoyed (and savored) by all.
With a soundtrack scored by Sebastien Giniaux, my obsession with gypsy jazz has reached new heights. Dessert AND a Django Reinhardt inspired soundtrack? You don't have to ask me twice.
Keep an ear out for some of this on Monday's upcoming show!