It takes a deft hand—or skillful, fast-paced editing—to make a cooking competition engaging to the average viewer. The inherent drama of a poorly executed flambé or delicious avocado reduction are hardly what most would consider compelling television, never mind cinema, but leave it to the French to defy conventional wisdom. In a time where every subcultural phenomenon or obscure contest warrants its own full-length documentary, Kings of Pastry makes a convincing case for its subject, the harrowing Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, a grueling three-day culinary endurance test requiring its participants to be equal parts confectioner, engineer, and alchemist. Without the distraction of Gordon Ramsey’s histrionics or Padma Lakshmi’s shilling for Glad products, the film moves with a laid-back, Gallic pace, dialing down the interpersonal drama to focus on the process of constructing large eggs from sugar crystals and the nerve-wracking journey of a centerpiece as it’s transported from kitchen to table.
KINGS OF PASTRY OPENS NOV. 24 AT WEST END CINEMA, 2301 M ST. NW. $8-11. (202) 419-3456.