People often ask why we would make a film about a French pastry competition but as soon as we met chef Jacquy Pfeiffer it became clear that the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition was not going to be your average “Top Chef” cook-off. These reality TV shows seemed like mere wind sprints compared to the marathon three-day MOF contest that he was preparing to enter. But winning is not all that this epic contest represents. Becoming a MOF (Best Craftsman in France) is a lifelong dream for French artisans that can only come true by seeking excellence. As Jacquy would say, “The MOF is not about doing the “best that you can do,” but the “best that can be done.” This degree of perfection in the pastry profession, like most Olympic contests, is achieved through passion, sacrifice and extraordinary skill — and as we found out, for Jacquy and the other 15 finalists, a lot of luck.
Our filmmaking has allowed us to witness many different worlds through the eyes of interesting and talented people, many of whom have become friends. Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer is among them. What we found in the arcane creation of French pastry was a process based on ancient kitchen physics. Once you have learned the laws that apply, perfection lies in the job of properly carrying them out. Most Americans hardly recognize the names of classic French pastries — macarons, dacquoise, brioche — some of the exquisite treats that Jacquy perfects daily. But what we did not expect was that Jacquy was more than a baker. He was an artist creating towering sugar sculptures, Brancusi-style blown-sugar figures and large, intricate Fabergé eggs. Every day, we watched Jacquy push himself toward excellence and show students at his Chicago-based French Pastry School what the MOF is all about.
Fifteen extraordinary finalists competed with Jacquy in Lyon, each pursuing the dream to wear the tricolor collar of a MOF and to enter this brotherhood of pastry elite. Many other renowned chefs lent their expertise as judges, tasters and helpers. Watching the camaraderie between the chefs was inspirational, and at times of crisis, especially moving to witness. We are extremely grateful to the MOF organization for letting us be the first to film this fascinating world.
— D A Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, Directors
For me, the subject of Kings of Pastry was a natural fit. Like most of the chefs in the film, my grandfather apprenticed at age 16 to a baker in Europe. He immigrated to New York City, and in the 1920s he opened two, elegant, confectionary “tea rooms,” creating his own signature chocolates and ice creams. My great-grandfather was chef for one of New York’s most famous German restaurants and cooked for the Roosevelt family during the summer at their home on Campobello Island. On the other side of the family was my Hungarian grandmother, well-known in her community for her exquisite cooking and baking. When other kids in the 1950s were eating Betty Crocker birthday cakes mixed from a box, I would get a ten-layer Dobos Torte sponge cake with a caramel filling, mocha butter cream icing and a burnt-sugar glaze. Every year we would count how many layers Grammy would make for the cake. She lived until she was 94, so I felt blessed! So when we were looking for our next project, Kings of Pastry seemed “Zen.”
— Chris Hegedus, Director