PBS POV debuts Kings of Pastry by D.A. Pennebaker


Chicago-based Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer prepares one of the enormous, exotic pastries required to win in the world-famous MOF competition. Everything you see, rising toward the ceiling from the square wooden base, is an edible confection crafted by Pfeiffer. Photo by Paul Strabbing, used courtesy of PBS POVTONIGHT, the most provocative series of cross-cultural documentaries on network television debuts its new season on PBS—with a puffy-sweet look at international culinary competition. Soon, the PBS POV series will jump into controversial global issues—take a look at our overview of the entire season for more about future weeks of PBS POV.

ReadTheSpirit recommends that you seize this opportunity! Contact friends and watch these shows together. Or, use this series as fuel for your own small discussion group at your church, library or coffee shop. There’s a whole lot to discuss!

We’ve committed ourselves to traveling with you through the series and occasionally publishing questions that might help you spark a great discussion. So, here goes with tonight’s debut, “Kings of Pastry.”


“Kings of Pastry” was made by American documentary pioneer D.A. Pennebaker, who became famous in the 1960s for groundbreaking movies about cultural icons like the Kennedys and Bob Dylan. Pennebaker also played a key role in bringing Americans their first glimpse of controversial movies by French director Jean Luc Godard. In his 80s, Pennebaker headed back to France to film this documentary about an American chef who wants to become a French-approved MOF.

What is a MOF? The film explains it this way: “In France, if you wanted to be a great French Chef, you would want to wear The Collar. But you have to win it. There is a lot of competition and very few winners. In great kitchens they’re known as Meilleurs Ouvriers de France. The French call them MOFs. Some are Kings of Pastry.”

If you’re a fan of American cooking competitions on network TV, you’ll love this look at one of the world’s most exclusive competitions. Chicago-based chef and teacher Jacquy Pfeiffer is the main character of this film, but he competes with 15 other chefs in producing exotic world-class pastries. As the film unfolds, we find ourselves cheering on some of the other competitors, as well, and we suffer when some heart-breaking mishaps occur in the kitchen.

As always with PBS broadcasts, check local listings.


QUESTION 1: Why are Americans so fascinated with food right now? The same week “Kings of Pastry” is airing, on another network super chef Gordon Ramsay is starting a new season of “Master Chef,” a grassroots competition for American culinary hopefuls. Cooking competitions are hugely popular! But, why now? Data show families are facing record-setting challenges with America’s economy, employment and our nation’s future status as a world power. Right now, why do we love to watch people eat cake?

QUESTION 2: What do you think of the international hierarchy you see in this film? There also are traditional gilds and hierarchies in other fields of culinary arts. In America, we believe that anyone can master cooking and the arts of hospitality, don’t we? What do you think of these old-school castes? You may have more questions about this once you see the entire film and think about the winners.

QUESTION 3: Throughout our history, Americans have run hot and cold on France. Our nation was born with French help, but we were horrified by the French Revolution. Flash forward to two world wars and think about that period after 9/11 when Americans suddenly were eating “Freedom Fries.” This movie celebrates American love of French culture. And POV is not alone. Historian David McCullough has a hot new bestseller right now in The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, which celebrates the influence of Paris on American culture. How do you feel about France today? And why do we run so hot and cold on our oldest ally?

QUESTION 4: The film argues that food plays a distinctively different role in French life. In the film, Pfeiffer argues that French families think about eating in a much different way than Americans. Do you agree?

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

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