BY: Amanda Guarragi
“The recipe is not that good, if it doesn’t include a story.”
Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles is a documentation of how food is a very important part of history and how that fusion can be modernized. Food and Art History intersect at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Laura Gabbert’s documentary. In 2018, the MET decided to open their “Visitors to Versailles” exhibit to the public, with a culinary event inspired by Louis XIV’s elaborate lifestyle. Yotam Ottolenghi accepted the challenge and selected five of the world’s most innovative, visionary pastry chefs through social media, to whip up desserts worthy of Marie Antoniette herself.
Ottolenghi wanted to preserve history through the pastry dishes, while modernizing the delicacies from that century for the “Visitors of Versailles” exhibit. He handpicked five pastry chefs that used architecture and history to create unique pastries through instagram. The integration of social media was beneficial because it has become a portfolio for so many people in the arts and it’s such a useful tool to get your name/brand out there. Dinara Kasko of Ukraine designs 3D printed moulds, while Singapore’s Janice Wong confects with chocolate. London conceptual artists Sam Bompas and Harry Parr sculpt wobbly gelatin. Ghaya Oliveira of Michelin-starred Daniel in New York City and “cronut” creator Dominique Ansel reinvent French pastries.
Laura Gabbert wanted to showcase the beauty and the dark history of Versailles during the run of Louis XIV. She did this by having Ottolenghi take the audience on his research journey, by speaking to history experts on Versailles and Marie Antoniette’s downfall. There was such a passion and appreciation for that period of history by the experts and by Ottolenghi, that it made it so much more engaging to watch. The passion for creating dishes and the importance of historical figures were brought together to present a story. Ottolenghi values history and the way food has grown with each culture all over the world.
The history and culture of the world is definitely embedded in food and dishes that chefs have created. We all associate certain dishes to countries and that adds the historical depth to its people. This feature does an incredible job in showcasing the beauty of Versailles, how the French pastries were originally created and where they were redistributed in Europe. It’s so fascinating to see where delicacies originated from and how much they have evolved in the modern era. One line that stood out to me, was that food was used as a ceremony in that century. Now instead of people inviting others into their homes to see their meals, they have posted their process on the internet for others to see. Food brings everyone together and the more we study the art of cooking and baking, there are endless possibilities in how to improve upon these dishes.
I also loved the way this feature was filmed. They really captured the beautiful colour tones and textures of everything in the frame, especially the beauty of Versailles and the dishes. Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles takes the viewer on a stunning journey of art history and french delicacies in a very extravagant way. They show every single detail and the importance of being an artist. There is no history without art and art can take many forms, including food dishes. It’s important to know and understand that preparing dishes on such a large scale, takes an artistic eye, but also an architectural one and it allows audiences to gain a new appreciation for art as an important medium.