Ottolenghi And The Cakes Of Versailles


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Ottolenghi And The Cakes Of Versailles
"It's a lot to fit into 75 minutes and while there's plenty here that is interesting, it's a shame Gabbert didn't distil things down a bit more." | Photo: Kino Lorber

Appropriately for a film about cake, Laura Gabbert's documentary brings a raft of different flavours to her documentary, which follows chef Yotam Ottolenghi as plans and brings to fruition a dessert-based celebration of the opulent court of Versailles at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2018. The trouble with flavours is, however, that if you use too many at once, it can spoil the whole batch. And Gabbert throws practically an entire spice rack at this. Part of the film concerning itself with the mechanics of the exhibition itself - who is involved, along with those chefs' backstories - alongside Ottolenghi espousing his own background and influences while also offering a historic grounding, through his interviews with expert Deborah Krohn, in the French court from 1682 to 1789.

It's a lot to fit into 75 minutes and while there's plenty here that is interesting, it's a shame Gabbert didn't distil things down a bit more - or go the whole hog and pitch it as a Netflix series. The most interesting element by far is the selection of the chefs involved and the work they then put in to realise their creative visions. Ottolenghi says he wanted a broad reach of voices, so he picks everyone from expert jelly makers Bompas and Parr to Dinara Kasko, who is a thoroughly modern culinary voice, mainly working through social networks, and whose cakes have intricate architecture that she achieves using 3D moulds she makes herself. Also in the line-up are Cronut creator Dominique Ansel, top hotel pastry chef Ghaya Ansel and Singaporean chocolatier Janice Wong. As someone who "likes to include a story" with food, the Versailles project is ideal for Ottolenghi and he certainly chooses his chefs with care.

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Scenes shot in Ottolenghi's own London test kitchen and home, however, feel as though they belong in a different documentary, so that there would be more time for us to watch the creations take shape. As is the way with recent television culinary documentaries, there's a tendency to look for "drama" - so Gabbert focuses in on Kasko experiencing problems with her mousse along with a mousseplaining, mansplaining older chef and on problems the Bompas and Parr team have with a cocktail fountain whirlpool pump. It's all very well, but considering how opulent the end result of these creations is, from jelly to elegant choux pastry swans, it's a shame more time wasn't spent watching what went right instead of what went wrong. There's some nice use of time-lapse photography showing Wong at work, which hints at what might have been, but Gabbert keeps cutting away to something else - as though none of us have the patience to watch what we actually came here for, the work of the chefs.

The history is also underserved. There are some intriguing ideas set up - the idea of the Versailles court being a place where privacy was practically nonexistent and how that mirrors, to a degree, the way social networks operate today - but Gabbart doesn't let us stop to consider that for long in case we lose interest. The film is crying out for a lot more about the way that the gardens were seen as a way of controlling nature by those who created them or the way food was served and a lot less about who got stuck in traffic and whether a gurney has trouble getting through a door or not.

Ottolenghi is an engaging presence - someone who could certainly hold centrestage in his own series - but this film ends up as more of a pudding than a fine piece of patisserie.

Reviewed on: 22 Dec 2020
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Ottolenghi And The Cakes Of Versailles packshot
Follow celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi as he assembles a star-studded team of the world’s most innovative pastry chefs to put on a Versailles-themed culinary gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Director: Laura Gabbert

Starring: Dominique Ansel, Sam Bompas, Dinara Kasko, Deborah Krohn, Ghaya Oliveira, Yotam Ottolenghi, Janice Wong

Year: 2020

Runtime: 75 minutes

Country: US


Tribeca 2020

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