Review: “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles”

A bevy of beautiful desserts delight the eyes of the viewer throughout “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles.”  But this documentary directed by Laura Gabbert doesn’t delve much deeper beyond what we see on the surface, despite touching on some very serious and fascinating issues.

The film revolves around a 2018 gala at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art titled “Visitors to Versailles.”  The Met enlists chef Yotam Ottolenghi to organize the event, and we follow him as he travels to the Palace of Versailles for research and accumulates an Avengers-like team of celebrated chefs, such as Dominique Ansel, Dinara Kasko, Sam Bompas, Ghaya Oliveira, and Janice Wong.  The result of all their efforts is a decadent feast that includes such gorgeous treats as fancy jello shots, architecturally-inspired cakes, swan pastries, and more.

Poster for “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles.” From IFC Films.

But there are multiple sides to and stories to be told in this film.  On the one hand, it’s a fairly straightforward account of the event Ottolenghi is hired to put on, showing everything from trials and tribulations in the kitchen and getting to know a bit of the background of each participating chef, particularly Ottolenghi.  On the other hand, film reflects on how the decadence of the French monarchy and the tendency of the royal family to live very public lives in order to show off their wealth mirrors the use of social media to share the partaking of fancy meals or exclusive events.  At the end of the film, Ottolenghi even reflects on how they are participating in this at the Met, as not many people could attend the Versailles gala, but virtually all of the attendees shared or streamed their experience online.  These topics aren’t really all combined together in the film smoothly, and at only 75 minutes long, the movie just doesn’t have the runtime to devote as much time to each subject as it could, or should.  Even Ottolenghi’s final introspective monologue comparing the real Versailles to the Versailles he and his chefs have assembled feels like it was tacked on at the last second for some added drama.  As a result, the final film only touches on several interesting topics, as opposed to delving deep into one or two of them.

“Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” is an easy watch, and it’s fun to marvel at the chefs’ incredible creations.  Ottolenghi has some very thoughtful things to say about food and his work, and it’s clear that the Met chose the right person in him to helm this event.  He’s also the right person to carry this movie—it’s just too bad that this movie isn’t as detailed as all those chocolates.

“Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” will play in select theaters and be available to watch on demand on September 25. Runtime: 76 minutes. Not rated. 3 out of 5 stars.

Media review screener courtesy IFC Films.

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