We've become blasé about the endless string of set-pieces chefs build for shows like Food Network Challenge. Fondant-wrapped Disney-themed fright cakes, cupcake towers inspired by Manolo Blahnik heels, sugar glass-molded landscapes with wonky Venetian masks and chocolate fountains that never gush the way they should: Who wouldn't want to see them crash on the teetery climactic journey from work surface to judging table?
Turns out America's NASCAR-tacky pastry mashups have a French ancestor, the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (M.O.F.), sometimes called the Nobel Prize of pastry. A documentary, Kings of Pastry, about three finalists out of 16 in the M.O.F. is finally making its way to San Francisco (it opens Nov. 17 at the Balboa Theater, 3630 Balboa, at 37th Ave.). The filmmakers: D.A. Pennebaker and his wife, Chris Hegedus.
Of course, Pennebaker (Dont Look Back, Monterey Pop; and with Hegedus, The War Room) is one of the daddies of cinéma vérité, and Kings of Pastry slices open the testosterone-heavy milieu of France's traditionally male pâtissier corps.
And while Village Voice critic Melissa Anderson suggests that, okay, Kings of Pastry isn't perfect cinema, but it does offer "a welcome break from the sensibilities and manufactured crises of Bravo and TLC shows." Of course, you could also just watch it for the same climactic crashes that make Food Network Challenge bearable, the hauling to the judges' table of the finalists' "piece montée, or 'sugar showpiece,'" wirites Anderson, "in which sucrose is manipulated for its chemical properties, and dessert becomes a weird, often tacky sculpture." Who says Americans can't fundamentally grasp the French?