‘Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles’ Review: Pastries of the Gilded Age, Made Modern

Did you know that drinkable chocolate predated the chocolate bar? It’s one of the many historical tidbits dropped for your delectation in “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles,” a fun documentary directed by Laura Gabbert.

In 2018, the renowned Israeli-born chef Yotam Ottolenghi was commissioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to reimagine the sweet stuff enjoyed by the court of French royalty in the period from 1682 to 1789. After which said royalty encountered an inconvenience: the French Revolution.

While for some the excesses of Versailles serve as a cautionary tale — and why not — the voluble, enthusiastic Ottolenghi wanted to emphasize the openness of public life in that period with this project.

The movie shows him enlisting an A-team of contemporary dessert makers. Their extravagant contributions include an edible model of a period garden. As is customary with events in general, and events held at the Met in particular (see also “The First Monday in May,” about the Met Gala), there are logistical challenges. A fountain for one of the show pieces refuses to function, and none of the refined parties involved thinks to consult with a Golden Corral manager, whose buffets have chocolate flowing like a river.

Some personality clashes also ensue. Ghaya Oliveira, pastry chef for the famous Manhattan restaurant Daniel, has cocoa butter mansplained to her by a pushy kitchen operative. She scraps the work she did under his prying eye, and redoes it her way when he’s not around.

Ultimately the results are eye-popping, sometimes almost confoundingly so. Tying the movie together is Ottolenghi’s generous personality, and his conviction that “a recipe is not that good if it doesn’t include a story.”

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles
Rated G. Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes. In select theaters and available to rent or buy on Amazon, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.

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