September 2nd, 2020
MOVIE: OTTOLENGHI AND THE CAKES OF VERSAILLES
STARRING: YOTAM OTTOLENGHI
DIRECTED BY: LAURA GABBERT
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
With any documentary about food or cooking, the best result to receive is when the audience is mentally salivating. Or at least inspired to leave their home and head directly for the sweet shop after it ends. With Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles, we get a bit of that food porn, some culture, and look at the human side of various chefs. That makes for plenty to enjoy and inspire fans in the culinary arts. Laura Gabbert’s documentary is a brief, but decadent look at a 2019 celebration of the foods from Versailles, held at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, led by world renowned chef Yotam Ottolenghi. The final result is a delightful and creative documentary of delicious proportions.
I consider myself a good eater of food, not a good cooker of food. I was a meat and potatoes kid growing up, my Irish mother made robust meals, and I was just grateful for going to bed with a full stomach. That’s about as far as my knowledge for the culinary arts goes, outside watching The Food Network every now and then, and appreciating my wife’s fantastic cooking. So it’s obvious that I was foreign to who Yotam Ottolenghi was, but most American’s would be, because he is more known in Europe than here. The Israelian chef has four best-selling cookbooks, six restaurants or bakeries, and a vast knowledge of artistic cooking. He’s genuinely an artist and was the perfect choice for the MET to have run an event of extravagant taste. What director Laura Gabbert captures through it all is the pressure of the moment, the stories of various chefs coming together, and a rich history for decadent eats.
Gabbert is not stepping into a new documentary subject with food. Her 2015 film, City of Gold was on renowned food critic Jonathan Gold, and his broad pallet of tastes. Instead of fully focusing on one person such as Ottolenghi, Gabbert does a unique job of capturing the collection of chefs, brought together based on their styles of cooking, specific culinary expertise, all in hope to make the Versailles event a success. The group includes a wide array of chefs from all over, including gelatin stars Bompas and Parr (You have to see them on Instagram), Ukranian Dinara Kasko, a 3D designer that turns her graphic arts into food, James Beard award winning chef Ghaya Oliveira, and French pastry chef Dominique Angel. They all bring unique and different styles to the event, now they just need to pull it all off.
The tough part about making a documentary is attempting to do things differently from others, but Cakes of Versailles achieves the best available with its subject matter. It has shortcomings in terms of longevity, it’s nothing groundbreaking, but it has a rich investment in how cooking is an amalgam of cultures, taste, and humans. Gabbert films the documentary in the moment, chefs sweating in the kitchen, leaving the talking head moments to Ottolenghi, with in-depth study on the history of Versailles and the foods they would eat at the time. It’s balanced nicely, leading up to the final act which is the event itself.
Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles is a fresh and filling documentary. The juxtaposition of watching something celebrate opulence during the times of COVID and economic strife is the biggest problem watching it. But it is a nice reminder of the good things we had in life. It will make you hungry, a bit sad about what we don’t get to experience anymore, and inspired by the chefs that work so hard at their crafts. It’s a brief escape to a documentary that I would call a delicious treat.
OTTOLENGHI AND THE CAKES OF VERSAILLES IS PLAYING AT SELECT THEATERS AND AVAILABLE ON DEMAND THIS WEEKEND. AN IFC FILMS PRODUCTION.
Written by: Leo Brady