26 June 2011

Edible Art and Science

Wedding cake by MOF Philippe Rigollot
(Press photo courtesy of Kings Of Pastry)
These are not the frosting flowers from the bakery counter and they are certainly not the botched edibles from Cake Wreckes....

If you have been following the recent “art and science” posts here on Somewhere Between, you might enjoy a 2009 documentary I watched on the public television last night.

Kings of Pastry is a ninety-minute film that chronicles the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Craftsman of France) or “MOF” competition among the best-of-the-best-of-the-best pastry chefs in France. Unlike other competitions, though, entrants in this event are not in competition with each other: any and all (or none) of the entrants can win a MOF metal in a given year.

These master chefs compete against themselves and, basically, gravity. Over the course of the three-day event, bakers and confectioners produce delicate, beautifully sculptured, and towering creations – all of them entirely edible. In the process, they have to carefully monitor cooking temperature, variation in ingredients, and environmental factors. (“Humidity is the enemy of sugar!”)

As I watched in awe, I turned to my wife and said, “Talk about art and science….”

Kings of Pastry – in addition to telling a very charming story of gastronomical glory and bittersweet heartbreak – offers a lesson I have recently overlooked. That is, appreciating the art and science in everything we do rather than merely the science in art or the art in science. The sheer complexity of chemistry, physics, and artistry involved in these MOF creations is staggering. You simply need to realize it's all there.

It’s funny that, under the slightest scrutiny, the divisions between various disciplines and crafts will melt like butter. And I could not agree more with French President Nicholas Sarkozy who, as the start of the film, declares his wish to rid France of the “morally scandalous” notion that “there are two forms of intelligence.” The MOF competitors and their masterpieces are a testament to the blending of knowledge, art, and dynamic skill.

Check your local PBS listings, visit the film’s website, or make room for Kings of Pastry on your Netflix queue.

Trust me… c’est delicieux!

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