When the The Metropolitan Museum of Art aimed to throw a party in New York along with the opening of an exhibition on visitors to Versailles between 1682 and 1789, its live arts department met the challenge with an obvious center point: cake.
The department, part of the 2,000-person workforce that runs The Met, typically works with artists including dancers and musicians, but this time the artists were culinary performers who use sugar as their medium.
Celebrated London chef Yotam Ottolenghi invites five others to create works and desserts for the 2018 opening, and Director Laura Gabbert, who brought the world onto the plate of late LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold in City of Gold, cooks up the same success here, combining the stories of the food with the stories of the people who make and eat it.
Before he became a pastry chef, cookbook author and overall food phenom Ottolenghi, who hails from the Jewish side of Jerusalem, was first a scholar of philosophy and art. He trolled Instagram to seek out the chefs he thought were creating cakes in the spirit of Versailles in its heyday, a showplace of the progress of technology, and the pinnacle of European art and culture. Cakes themselves, he notes, were a technological breakthrough of the time, bringing together the chemistry of refined sugar and cream into a transformative delight.
We learned an immense amount during the piece. For example, Marie Antoinette probably never said “Let them eat cake,” but it was among the sentiments used to vilify her and the rest of the monarchy culture in the face of widespread starvation and poverty among the people. Lest we forget: The golden age of Versailles ended in revolution that came from its polarization. Excess and opulence also means exclusion and envy.
You need not be a foodie nor a history buff to enjoy Cakes, but people with both interests undoubtedly will.
+Food as art
-When does taste-o-vision get here?
Ottelenghi and the Cakes of Versailles
Directed by Gabbert
75 min., NR, Amazon Prime