[Tribeca 2020] OTTOLENGHI AND THE CAKES OF VERSAILLES -- A Pretty but Short Exploration of Food as Art
Review by Sean Boelman
The newest film from acclaimed documentarian Laura Gabbert (City of Gold), Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles almost works better as an art documentary than a food one. Even though it explores a fascinating event, the movie simply isn’t long enough to cover every aspect of this rather dense story.
The film follows chef Yotam Ottolenghi as he works with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City to recruit a team of some of the greatest chefs working in the world today for an exhibit paying tribute to the feasts of Versailles. It’s a really fascinating story different from what is normally depicted in this type of documentary, but it’s a great showcase for some of the greatest cooking techniques.
Clocking in at a mere hour and fifteen minutes, there is simply too much to this story to be contained in a single feature-length movie. Ultimately, it’s likely that the story would have been better fit for a miniseries documentary format which would have allowed Gabbert more time to flesh out the different storylines.
One of the issues that the film has is that it features too many subjects. The movie attempts to detail the processes of all of the members of the team in addition to Ottolenghi, and it doesn’t work. The portion of the film that is most lacking in depth is the portion following the chefs as they prepare for the exhibit. In a longer format, there would have been more time dedicated to each of these masters in the process of their craft.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of things to make this movie worth watching. The film offers a cursory but surprisingly interesting look at the history of Versailles. Because the movie leans heavily into the museum aspect of the story, it is understandable why it has an almost educational feel to it.
The film also offers some interesting commentary tying together the ideas of Versailles with the issue of excess in the modern world. As expected, thematic depth is lost as a result of the movie being so short, but Ottolenghi and his peers pose enough questions about the meaning of what they are doing to be thought-provoking.
Of course, the biggest highlight of the film is its cinematography. Gabbert is a director that knows how to shoot food in an appetizing and gorgeous way, and as a result, the movie is often breathtaking. This is particularly the case in the end of the film, in which the chefs showcase their completed work.
Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles is an entertaining watch, but it is too short for its own good. It’s worth watching for its gorgeous camerawork alone, even if it doesn’t offer the in-depth information one would want.
Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles was set to debut at the cancelled 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.