2020, Movies

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles (2020, Laura Gabbert)

This is a weird one. The film mentions Yotam Ottolenghi in its title, and the film focuses on him as its main character, and yet he is not one of the chefs baking cakes for the gala at the centre of the film. Seriously.

The plot is that Ottlenghi is looking for a new “challenge” and he gets asked by the Met to bake some cakes for their Versailles exhibit. So he finds an all-star cast of interesting bakers and gets them to do it. (One of them is not a baker but a jelly…um, chef?) They make some pretty looking cakes (and other things) and they let some rich people eat them at the Met. And that’s about it.

Throughout, Ottolenghi muses on food, philosophy and Vesailles. He is always thoughtful and fairly coherent. The film around him is a little less so. There is a pivot to social comment at the end which feels both apt and also very odd, given the nature of the whole enterprise.

I’m not exactly sure why this exists. But it was pleasant to watch, with the odd thought-provoking statement. It delivers on the food porn, which is the most important thing.

But what I can’t quite figure out is the title, which is horribly misleading. As I said, Ottolenghi doesn’t ever cook for the exhibition (though we watch him cooking once). The chefs who do cook do not get top billing. Moreover, these are not historical cakes of Versailles but modern (and usually avant garde) baking and other forms of culinary art. Though inspired by Versailles they are nothing like the historical cakes I was expecting from the title. (I like watching people make old food.)

So, this is a bit of a shoulder shrug from me. I would have liked it more with a more relevant title I’m sure.


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