The keys to a great documentary are the same to a great fictional film: drama and conflict.
"Kings of Pastry" directors Chris Hegedus ("The War Room") and D.A. Pennebaker ("Don't Look Back," "The War Room") know this, and so their 84-minute look at the rigorous testing 16 French pastry chefs undergo in hopes of earning the prestigious Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (Best Craftsman in France) collar is a sweet success.
In English and French (with English subtitles), we meet three of the main aspirants for the MOF collar: Jacquy Pfeiffer, of Chicago's The French Pastry School, Regis Lazard and Philippe Rigollot.
The three, along with 13 others, spend three days creating the most amazing desserts for the pastry world's most prestigious and all-consuming competition, which takes place in Lyon, France.
But don't expect "Hell's Kitchen."
Even the worst of these 16 chefs creates the kind of desserts that are as sweet to the eyes as to the nose and taste buds; the kinds of desserts we could only hope would appear in front of us someday.
To call the competition a pastry Olympics or World Cup would be no overstatement.
The film, unlike the subject, is unadorned and simple. It's directness and lack of frills not only allow the beauty of the finished creations to shine, but also spotlights the hard work that goes into each and every cookie, each cake, each blown sugar art masterwork.
We see the hard work that goes into creating these sumptuous treats, along with the skill and the artistic sense. All of these pastry chefs are masters of their art. But will they all succeed in impressing the judges -- themselves all MOFs -- with their creations.
Along the way, of course, there are trials and tribulations. Basically cut off from their families while they compete, the event is three very, very long days that begin at 4 a.m. And for most of the competitors, work is piling up for them back home, adding to the stress. For the competition they must create a buffet of delectables that Pfeiffer estimated at nearly 40 different recipes.
Meanwhile, they know that they must create the most dazzling displays of flour and sugar to impress the judges.
What was, perhaps, as impressive as the culinary abilities of the competitors, their coaches and the judges was the camaraderie among everyone. When Rigollot's soaring, but delicate, sugar sculpture (making these requires the skills of a chef, a sculptor, a glass blower and more) collapses in the kitchen on the final day, he is, understandably distraught.
But his fellow aspirants come over to over comfort, judges and coaches offer suggestions for how he can rescue what is left. He reminds himself of a promise he made to his mentor to see the competition through to the end regardless of what he encounters. But will his sheer will to succeed earn him a coveted collar?
Lazard knew this suffering already. He was competing for his second time. He dropped his sculpture while on the stairs up to the buffet area the first time around.
Of course, I'm not telling you which or how many of the 16 make it through, because I know you will enjoy the meal -- the getting there -- as much as, if not more than, you will the savor dessert.
"Kings of Pastry" screens Sunday, Sept. 26 at 4:15 p.m., at North Shore Cinema. and Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 5:15 p.m., at the Oriental Theatre.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.