Review: Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles

Year: 2020
Runtime: 75 Minutes
Director: Laura Gabbert
Writers: N/A
Stars: Yotam Ottolenghi, Sam Bompas, Janice Wong, Dinara Kasko

By Tom Moore

With plenty of foodies out in the world, there’re so many ways to enjoy and find new appreciation for food. From discovering new flavors or fusions to coming across new social media stars looking to entertain your inner foodie, food has taken on new meaning for many people in the digital age. Hell, even I follow plenty of food pages on Facebook, like Goodful, just because I enjoy watching people make food. However, now I’ve garnered a new kind of appreciation and perspective on food after watching director Laura Gabbert’s new documentary, “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles”, as she focuses on the connections between food and art.

The film follows the collaboration between world-renowned chef Yotam Ottolenghi and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City as they create an extravagant food gala based on an art exhibit that’s based on the Palace of Versailles. Honestly, it’s kind of easy for a film like this to come off kind of pretentious as it proclaims food as art and shows the pivotal part that food played in Versailles. There’re just some fantastical visions of food as art and historical connections that aren’t going to connect with the everyday foodie.

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However, these moments are surprisingly sparse and Gabbert does an excellent job creating a personal connection for viewers through hearing the stories of Ottolenghi and other chefs find their passion for food and seeing their progress in creating food for the event.

“Gabbert shows a different and more artistic side of the food world in a deeply personal and connective way.”

Having Ottolenghi be the narrative mouthpiece for the film is a perfect choice by Gabbert as his genuine love for food and caring personality make him instantly charismatic. Hearing him talk about how he believes that every recipe tells a story, him feeling that food should remind you of home (kind of like with Anton in “Ratatouille”), and even the struggles of being a gay chef in a heavily masculine atmosphere makes you feel like you’re really getting to know him on a personal level.

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It makes it so when he’s talking about the history of Versailles with colleagues and how food plays a strong part in the social dynamics we have, it comes off like its coming from a friend, not from some renowned chef. Not to mention, the sequence of him finding the five pastry chefs for the event through Instagram is really awesome and says a lot. It’s visually pleasing, it shows how modern Ottolenghi’s thinking is, and it shows how social media plays a major role in discovering new chefs and food.

Speaking of the five chefs, seeing all of their own unique visions of food and their creations for the event slowly coming together also is given a delightfully personal touch and is very satisfying. The diversity, not just in region or ethnic background, but in the way these five create and view food is actually really fascinating.

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From Dinara Kasko utilizing 3-D printing to create unique molds for her cakes to Janice Wong creating “edible art” atop the iconic Versailles garden setting, viewers will see a new side of food that’s very enriching to watch. The easy favorite is the lovable brit, Sam Bompas, as his energetic personality is very touching and his story of coming up as a social media influencer rather than a trained chef and his upbringing with creating jelly deserts is very inspiring. Also, like he says at one point, seeing the jellies on a plate is just kind of magical and the vortex cocktail he creates is really memorable.

“Food has truly never looked so good and by the end, viewers might start to see food in the artistic ways that these chefs and clearly Gabbert do.”

Gabbert really makes it like you’re a part of the even from start to finish through seeing all of the ups and downs of the chefs trying to create their own nods to Versailles. Things like electrical problems, crafting something that evokes both the time and style of Versailles, and even creative differences make the journey to the big day very engaging and makes viewers more connected to each of the chef’s stories. It’s also creates this sense of satisfaction when the event eventually comes, and the fruits of all the chef’s labors are shown in beautiful fashion.

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The sequence of them talking about Versailles and their experiences as they food takes center stage is really fulfilling and kind of inspiring. It also makes your mouth kind of water because Gabbert literally shoots them like she’s showcasing pieces of art. Food has truly never looked so good and by the end, viewers might start to see food in the artistic ways that these chefs and clearly Gabbert do.

With her new doc, Gabbert shows a different and more artistic side of the food world in a deeply personal and connective way. For everything that should come off as too artsy and pretentious, she keeps it engaging, personable, and adds a sense of heart that will be touching for any and all foodies.

4.5 stars

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