In KINGS OF PASTRY, D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus took the subject of pastry-making at the highest, most refined levels, and showed us a world of artists heretofore unsung by most of us who are only too happy to pop a petit four or a truffle into our mouths for a momentĎs delight. The filmmakers, and the subjects, unequivocally made the case for this art form, the products of which are fleeting, is on a par with any other fine art. The vehicle is the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition, a grueling exam spread over three days and testing the participants on more aspects of pastry and sugar manipulation than many could have imagined. Only the talented, and the strong, survive the process that is as much a mental test as anything else. Itís a facet of the process that French President Nicolas Sarkozy cites when declaring that manual skill of this caliber is on equal footing with any of the intellectual variety, and by the end, itís impossible to argue the point.
The DVD may not help anyone to perfect their own culinary skills, but it the inspiration it provides is not inconsiderable. For a DVD extra that perfectly illuminates what the feature film was about, there is a short devoted to chocolate sculpture. While there would have been an intrinsic fascination, one not entirely divorced from the gustatory, with watching Jacquy Pfeiffer create the sculpture for the filmís premiere, having seen what it takes to win the title, gives an entirely new context to the process. There is the same concentration, the same preternatural precision, the same fanatical obsession with detail found in the competition itself as he constructs the fantasy of film reels, film stock, sweeping abstract arabesques and water lilies that seem to float in the air. There is even the same half-muttering as he provides his own commentary on the ongoing process. Yet there is also the indefinable sense that he is enjoying himself, that for him, this is living the dream. For audience identification, there is also D.A. Pennebaker himself noshing on a piece of the chocolate, which is another version of living the dream, if only vicariously.
Pennebaker and partner Chris Hegedus wearing hairnets, are the subject of an interview conducted, appropriately, at a posh chocolatier in New York City. In it, Hegedus reveals her familyís roots in the sweets trade, and Pennebaker, in keeping with the sensual experience of chocolate itself, makes an analogy about the difference between filming a documentary and editing it into its final form that gets the idea across in a delightfully carnal, and unforgettable, fashion. As well as anything in the film, the interaction of Pennebaker and the chocolate in the shop, in all its various states from melted potential to final pop into the mouth, provides a perfect precis on the total sensory effect of chocolate on humans, including the little dimple it makes when being poured.
The most intriguing part of the benefit chocolate fashion show conducted at the French Pastry School is wondering how the chocolate, which melts at body temperature, managed to survive the walk down the runway as part of intricate designs worn by game models. Itís never explained, but one model is seen licking her hand when her prop gun begins to soften. The clothes, a mix of edible and not, are fun, and the beneficiary, the scholarship fund for the French Pastry School to help it turn out more wizards in the ways of chocolate, can be found at FrenchPastrySchool.com.