Thursday, 22 November 2012

Kings of Pastry

The unremittingly outstanding BBC4 recently aired a award winning documentary entitled “Kings of Pastry” which covered the preparations of top French pastry chefs for the “Meilleurs Ouvriers de France” (MOF) competition.

Part of the Storyville series, the programme focused mainly on Jacquy Pfeiffer, a chef working in Chicago as he prepared for the three day event, which is only held once every four years.

The MOF is a test of the chefs ability to work against the clock , making a range of confections ranging from small chocolates to ornate sugar sculptures a few feet tall and weighing several kilograms.

The chefs spend years preparing for the event, thinking about the confections they will produce and honing their skills - and for several months before the event they practice their recipes and check to see whether they can work within the timeframe allowed.

The event is not a tournament with just one winner, it is a competition to see who meets the standard required - and all those who are good enough receive the right to wear the prestigious blue, white and red striped collar worn on their chefs jackets.

The programme was mesmerising from start to finish, both for the dedication of the 16 contestants and for the skill and sheer physical hard work required to achieve success.

This isn't a sugar sculpture. . .

. . . THIS is a sugar sculpture

Note : Spoiler Alert !

There was heart-stopping drama too, not least when, on day three, Philippe Rigollot was moving his beautiful sugar sculpture. As he gently placed it on the worksurface, a piece at the top of the sculpture fractured, toppled over and brought down much of the construction like shattered glass.

Understandably, Phillipe was distraught and walked out of the building. He considered quitting but then remembered some advice that he had been given “No matter what happens, see it through to the end” and returned to the kitchen to see whether he could reconstruct at least a token sculpture.

The MOF judges (all top chefs themselves), who had spent the competition looking over the contestents shoulders to see what they were doing now tried to help Phillipe regain his composure. One said “Phillipe, go for it. Your are good at making ribbons. Make one”. Another said “Phillipe, you know how to blow sugar, Do that, it will give your piece volume”.

Heartbreakingly, the judges had tears in their eyes as they made these comments, which only made it more difficult for Phillipe!

In the limited time available, Phillipe managed to prepare a sculpture that, to BFTF, looked pretty impressive.

But, given that there had been many comments from the contestants saying that any mistake would leave ones chances of achieving MOF status in tatters, it seemed pretty clear that Phillipe was now only along forth ride.

Phillipe and his sugar sculpture, just before disaster struck

At the awards ceremony, the judges making the announcement said that he wanted to give all 16 contestants MOF status, but it had not been possible to do so. He read out the list of those who had made the grade :

David Capy, Arnaud Larher, Angelo Musa, Christophe Rhedon…and….Philippe Rigollot

Wow! BFTF certainly did not see that coming ! One of the judges explained that they had been impressed with Phillipe’s perseverance and his performance on the first two days had been good enough to make up for his below standard sugar sculpture on the final day.

Truly a great piece of programming. Perhaps one day, all telly will be this good.

The programme closed by showing Jacquy Pfeiffer, now retired from MOF competition, back at his pasty school in Chicago - and by mentioning that the Philippe Rigollot later opened his own patisserie, whose rather scrumptious website can be found here.

Sugar Sculpture from Wikipedia
Screenshot from Iplayer, used as "fairuse", copyright BBC
"That's not a sugar scuplture" line stolen shamelessly from Crocodile Dundee:

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