Review: ‘Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles,’ starring Yotam Ottolenghi, Dominique Ansel, Ghaya Oliveira, Dinara Kasko, Sam Bompas, Harry Parr and Janice Wong

September 25, 2020

by Carla Hay

Sam Bompas, Dominique Ansel, Yotam Ottolenghi, Dinara Kasko and Harry Parr in “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles”

Directed by Laura Gabbert

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City and briefly in London and Versailles, France, this documentary about celebrity chef/author Yotam Ottolenghi’s Metropolitan Museum of Art event to celebrate the cakes of Versailles features a cast of white and Asian people representing the upper-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: The challenge for this event was to bring a modern twist to classic pastry dishes, and there were a few conflicts with the museum staff over what the chefs should and should not do.

Culture Audience: “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” will appeal primarily to high-end foodies and fans of these chefs. 

A cake display in “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

In June 2018, celebrity chef/author Yotam Ottolenghi (who owns and operates Ottolenghi Test Kitchen, a cooking hub/office in London) presented a celebration of the pastries of the legendry French court of Versailles in an event that took place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (also known as the Met) in New York City. The exhibit event, titled “Feast of Versailles with Yotam Ottolenghi,” included the work of several notable chefs who were personally invited by Ottolenghi to participate. The straightforward documentary “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” (directed by Laura Gabbert) chronicles the behind-the-scenes story about this event.

The movie begins with Ottolenghi in London (where he lives) talking about why he decided to head up this event: “I was looking for the next challenge.” He says the Metropolitan Museum of Art approached him for the job. Ottolenghi remembers thinking, “Why am I getting an email from the Met? I don’t hang out with the Met [crowd].”

Ottolenghi continues, “When I saw that Versailles was the upcoming exhibit at the Met, I was intrigued. Food and art and history meet at one big event at the Met about cakes inspired by Versailles.” Considering that Ottolenghi has a background as a pastry chef, he had this thought of the event: “This is for me.”

Met Live Arts Department general manager Limor Tomer explains the idea behind the Met’s “Feast of Versailles” exhibit: “We think of performance and performance work very broadly, so the art of the kitchen fits very well into that. When we were thinking about Versailles, we were thinking about, ‘How do we give people an embodied way to understand what Versailles was and how it fit socially and culturally into people’s lives?'”

To prepare for this prestigious undertaking and to get a better understanding of the culture of Versailles, Ottolenghi visited Versailles, including the landmark Palace of Versailles. He also worked with a tutor on Versailles history: Bard Graduate Center assistant professor Deborah Krohn, who mentions in the documentary that Versailles was different from most other royal courts because there was no real privacy.

The general public could come and go in the Versailles court, which made the royals and upper-class society feel more accessible to lower-class people, but it also created more social envy, since poor people could see all the luxury that other people enjoyed in the court. Ottolenghi comments toward the end of the documentary that the court of Versailles and Instagram have parallels, since both are open to the public, but people use these forums as ways to boast, show off and create envy.

Ottolenghi opens up about his own background in the documentary. He grew up in Jerusalem, and his parents were academics who expected him to follow a similar career path. After a stint in the Israeli Defense Forces, he graduated from Tel Aviv University in 1997, with a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in comparative literature. He relocated to Amsterdam, where he edited the Hebrew section of NIW, a Dutch-Jewish weekly magazine.

Ottolenghi’s career path turned to cuisine when he moved to London to study French cooking at Le Cordon Bleu. He still has a passion for writing though, as evidenced by his cookbooks and his articles/essays in publications such as The Guardian and The New York Times. Ottolenghi, who is openly gay, lives with his husband Karl Allen and their two sons. Ottolenghi talks warmly about his family, but they are not featured in the documentary.

Ottolenghi’s international and well-traveled background has clearly given him an open-mindedness to other cultures. His business partner Sam Tamimi, who’s briefly interviewed in the documentary, mentions how they both were raised in Jerusalem, but in very different parts of the city: Ottolenghi grew up in Western Jerusalem (which is predominantly Jewish), while Tamimi grew up in Eastern Jerusalem, which is predominantly Muslim.

This openness to other cultures is why Ottolenghi consciously decided that he wanted to invite chefs from various countries to create pastry art for the Versailles exhibit. In the documentary, he says he started his search by following pastry chefs on Instagram. Ottolenghi says he was looking for “pastry chefs who take their art so seriously that the push the boundaries of technology, flavors, presentation. And it was really important to me that they actually be as dissimilar from each other as possible.”

The chosen pastry chefs were:

  • Dominique Ansel, originally from France and currently living in New York City, this James Beard Award-winning baker is best known for creating the Cronut®, Cookie Shot, DKA (Dominique’s Kouign Amann) and Frozen S’mores.
  • Sam Bompas and Harry Parr, originally from the United Kingdom, this London-based duo known as Bompas & Parr, are conceptual artists who infuse technology in their work and are known for creating extraordinary gelatin art.
  • Dinara Kasko, originally from the Ukraine, has a background in architecture and makes pastries using 3D-modeling technologies.
  • Ghaya Oliveira, originally from Tunisia and currently living in New York City, is a James Beard Award-winning executive pastry chef at Daniel (a famous French restaurant in New York City), and she is known for her reinvention of French-based plated desserts.
  • Janice Wong, originally from Singapore, has a specialty in interactive, edible art, especially with chocolate.

With this dream team assembled, the chefs meet with members of the Met museum staff to go over planning and logistics of what the chefs will create. The Met staffers who are featured in the documentary include art curator Danielle Kisluk-Grosheide, production coordinator Sruly Lazaros and executive pastry chef Randy Eastman.

Ansel, the most famous pastry chef in the group, was an obvious top choice for the exhibit. But beyond Ansel’s name recognition and talent, Ottolenghi explains why he thought Ansel would be a perfect fit for the project, “Everything he does is grounded in tradition but modern.” In the documentary, Wong says she was a less obvious choice and she was surprised to get the assignment, since she is known for her contemporary style. However, Wong says she was intrigued because she got to do pretty much anything she wanted for the exhibit.

The chosen chefs also open up about their backgrounds. While Ansel knew from an early age that he wanted to be a chef (he’s began training as a chef after he left high school), others took a different path to their culinary careers. Kasko has the aforementioned background in architecture. Oliveira used to be a ballerina and later worked for an investment company.

Wong had a background doing “math-oriented work,” but her life changed after she survived a serious car accident where she was hit by a drunk driver. “Everything changed,” Wong says, “Something happened between the left and ride side of my brain. I kind of switched.” And so, she became more of a creative person, which led to her profession as a chef.

The biggest challenge that the chefs face in the “Feast of Versailles” exhibit is creating their elaborate works of art in the limited time that they have. They only have about a week on site at the Met to create their displays. Oliveira says she was “very inspired by nature and the gardens of Versailles,” so she decides to make an ambitious display of cakes with a lot of floral motifs.

Bompas & Parr run into problems because they decided to have some running water through a funnel/water pump as part of their exhibit, only to find out from a nervous Tomer that the Met usually doesn’t allow running water in the gallery area where the exhibit will be taking place. There’s also some Bompas & Parr drama about some items that they needed to have shipped from England, and it’s questionable if these items will arrive on time.

The Met executive pastry chef Eastman creates some conflict when he tells Kasko to add more fat (cocoa butter) to her cake batter, but she disagrees because she thinks there’s already too much fat. Eastman is very condescending to Kasko, by telling her about all the experience he has, and she reluctantly follows his advice. It seems that she only did so out of respect because the Met was the hosting venue. But Kasko ended up being right about her recipe, and she had to redo the cake batter the way she originally planned. All that lost time caused her more stress.

Naturally, the climax of the documentary is the big event, which attracted the type of Met crowd that you would expect. (Admission to the event was at a minimum price of $125 per person.) “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” isn’t a groundbreaking culinary documentary, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable look into the process of how this “Feast of Versailles” event was produced, as well as an insightful peek into the personalities of the chefs who created the event’s masterful dessert art.

IFC Films released “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on September 25, 2020.

2019 Met Gala: Event Photos and Videos

May 7, 2019

The 50th annual Costume Institute Gala, also known as the Met Gala, took place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on May 6, 2019. Because the theme was “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” guests were encouraged to dress in campy fashions. The event is an annual fundraising gala for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. This year, the Met Gala was co-chaired by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, Lady Gaga, Harry Styles, Serena Williams and Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele. Here are photo and video highlights from the event.

Kacey Musgraves and Gemma Chan at the 2019 Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on May 6, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Forevermark)

Costume Institute’s Spring 2019 exhibition at The Met Fifth Avenue to focus on ‘Camp: Notes on Fashion’

May 6, 2019

House of Schiaparelli
Ensemble by Bertrand Guyon and headpiece by Stephen Jones for House of Schiaparelli, fall/winter 2018–19 haute couture. (Photo by Johnny Dufort, courtesy of Schiaparellia and The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The following is a press release from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

The Costume Institute’s spring 2019 exhibition, Camp: Notes on Fashion (on view from May 9 through September 8, 2019, and preceded on May 6 by The Costume Institute Benefit), explores the origins of camp’s exuberant aesthetic and how the sensibility evolved from a place of marginality to become an important influence on mainstream culture. Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay “Notes on ‘Camp’” provides the framework for the exhibition, which examines how fashion designers have used their métier as a vehicle to engage with camp in a myriad of compelling, humorous, and sometimes incongruous ways.

The exhibition is made possible by Gucci.

Additional support is provided by Condé Nast.

“Camp’s disruptive nature and subversion of modern aesthetic values has often been trivialized, but this exhibition reveals that it has had a profound influence on both high art and popular culture,” said Max Hollein, Director of The Met. “By tracing its evolution and highlighting its defining elements, the show embodies the ironic sensibilities of this audacious style, challenges conventional understandings of beauty and taste, and establishes the critical role that this important genre has played in the history of art and fashion.”

In celebration of the opening, The Costume Institute Benefit—also known as The Met Gala—takes place on Monday, May 6.  The evening’s co-chairs are Lady Gaga, Alessandro Michele, Harry Styles, Serena Williams, and Anna Wintour.  The event is The Costume Institute’s main source of annual funding for exhibitions, publications, acquisitions, and capital improvements.

“Fashion is the most overt and enduring conduit of the camp aesthetic,” said Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute. “Effectively illustrating Sontag’s ‘Notes on “Camp,”’ the exhibition advances creative and critical dialogue about the ongoing and ever-evolving impact of camp on fashion.”

Exhibition Overview
The exhibition features approximately 250 objects, including womenswear and menswear, as well as sculptures, paintings, and drawings dating from the 17th century to the present. The show’s opening section positions Versailles as a “camp Eden” and address the concept of se camper—“to posture boldly”—in the royal courts of Louis XIV and Louis XV.  It then focuses on the figure of the dandy as a “camp ideal” and traces camp’s origins to the queer subcultures of Europe and America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  In her essay, Sontag defined camp as an aesthetic and outlined its primary characteristics. The second section of the exhibition is devoted to how these elements—which include irony, humor, parody, pastiche, artifice, theatricality, and exaggeration—are expressed in fashion.

Designers whose work is on view in the exhibition include Virgil Abloh (for Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh); Giorgio Armani (for Armani Privé); Manish Arora; Ashish; Christopher Bailey (for Burberry); Cristóbal Balenciaga; Thom Browne; Sarah Burton (for Alexander McQueen); Jean-Charles de Castelbajac; Antonio del Castillo (for Lanvin-Castillo);  Dapper Dan (for Gucci); Christian Dior; Salvatore Ferragamo; John Galliano (for Maison Margiela, House of Dior, and John Galliano); Jean Paul Gaultier; Nicolas Ghesquière (for Louis Vuitton); Odile Gilbert (for Jean Paul Gaultier); Edda Gimnes and Manuel Vadillo (for EDDA); Molly Goddard; Bertrand Guyon (for House of Schiaparelli); Demna Gvasalia (for Balenciaga and VETEMENTS); Johnson Hartig (for Libertine); Deirdre Hawken; Pam Hogg; Marc Jacobs; Rossella Jardini (for House of Moschino); Stephen Jones (for Giles Deacon, John Galliano, and House of Schiaparelli); Christopher Kane; Patrick Kelly; Ada Kokosar; Christian Lacroix; Karl Lagerfeld (for House of Chanel and Chloé); Mary Katrantzou; Rei Kawakubo (for Comme des Garçons); Tomo Koizumi; Bob Mackie; Martin Margiela; Stella McCartney (for Chloé); Alexander McQueen (for Givenchy); Alessandro Michele (for Gucci); Edward Molyneux; Erdem Moralioglu (for Erdem); Franco Moschino; Thierry Mugler; Alejandro Goméz Palomo (for Palomo Spain); JiSun Park and KyuYong Shin (for Blindness); Marjan Pejoski; Phoebe Philo (for Céline); Paul Poiret; Gareth Pugh; Richard Quinn; Traver Rains and Richie Rich (for Heatherette); Zandra Rhodes; William Dill-Russell; Yves Saint Laurent; Elsa Schiaparelli; Jeremy Scott (for Moschino and Jeremy Scott); Hedi Slimane (for Saint Laurent); Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren (for Viktor & Rolf); Anna Sui; Jun Takahashi (for Undercover); Michael Travis; Philip Treacy; Giambattista Valli; Walter Van Beirendonck; Patric DiCaprio, Claire Sullivan, and Bryn Taubensee (for Vaquera); Gianni Versace; and Vivienne Westwood.

Exhibition Credits
The exhibition is organized by Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute; with Karen Van Godtsenhoven, Associate Curator; and Amanda Garfinkel, Assistant Curator. Theater scenographer Jan Versweyveld, whose work includes Lazarus with David Bowie as well as Broadway productions of A View from the Bridge and Network, created the exhibition design with The Met’s Design Department, and consulted on the gala décor with Raul Avila, who has produced the décor since 2007.  All headdresses are specially created for the exhibition by Stephen Jones.

Related Content
A publication by Andrew Bolton with Fabio Cleto, Karen Van Godtsenhoven, and Amanda Garfinkel accompanies the exhibition and includes new photography by Johnny Dufort.  It is published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press.  

A special feature on the Museum’s website, www.metmuseum.org/Camp, provides further information about the exhibition.  Follow us on Facebook.com/metmuseum, Instagram.com/metmuseum, and Twitter.com/metmuseum to join the conversation about the exhibition and gala.  Use #MetCamp, #CostumeInstitute, @MetCostumeInstitute, and #MetGala on Instagram and Twitter.

About Gucci
Founded in Florence in 1921, Gucci is one of the world’s leading luxury fashion brands, with a reputation for creativity, innovation, and Italian craftsmanship.  Gucci is part of Kering, a global Luxury group, which manages the development of a series of renowned maisons in fashion, leather goods, jewelry, and watches.

About The Met
The Met presents over 5,000 years of art from around the world in three New York City locations—The Met Fifth AvenueThe Met Breuer, and The Met Cloisters.  Since it was founded in 1870, the Museum has brought art to life in its galleries and through exhibitions and events, revealing both new ideas and unexpected connections across time and cultures.

 

2018 Met Gala: Event Photos and Videos

May 8, 2018

The 49th annual Costume Institute Gala, also known as the Met Gala, took place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on May 7, 2018. Because the theme was “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,”  guests were encouraged to dress in fashion inspired by the Catholic religion. The event is an annual fundraising gala for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. This year, the Met Gala was co-chaired by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, Amal Clooney, Rihanna and Donatella Versace. Here are photo and video highlights from the event.

 

Costume Institute’s Spring 2018 exhibition at The Met Fifth Avenue and Met Cloisters to focus on ‘Fashion and the Catholic Imagination’

November 8, 2017
The following is a press release from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination

Image 1 (left): El Greco, Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara (1541–1609), ca. 1600, oil on canvas; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.5) (Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Image 2 (right): Evening Coat, Cristobal Balenciaga for House of Balenciaga, autumn/winter 1954–55; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Bryon C. Foy, 1957 (C.I.57.29.8) (Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Digital Composite Scan by Katerina Jebb)

Exhibition Dates: May 10–October 8, 2018
Member Previews: May 8–May 9, 2018
Exhibition Locations: The Met Cloisters and The Met Fifth Avenue’s
Medieval Galleries and Anna Wintour Costume Center


Costume Institute Benefit on May 7 with Co-Chairs Amal Clooney, Rihanna, Donatella Versace, and Anna Wintour, and Honorary Chairs Christine and Stephen A. Schwarzman

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that The Costume Institute’s spring 2018 exhibition will be Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, on view from May 10 through October 8, 2018 (preceded on May 7 by The Costume Institute Benefit). Presented at The Met Fifth Avenue in both the medieval galleries and the Anna Wintour Costume Center, the show will also occupy The Met Cloisters, creating a trio of distinct gallery locations. The thematic exhibition will feature a dialogue between fashion and masterworks of religious art in The Met collection to examine fashion’s ongoing engagement with the devotional practices and traditions of Catholicism. A group of papal robes and accessories from the Vatican will travel to the United States to serve as the cornerstone of the exhibition, highlighting the enduring influence of liturgical vestments on designers.

The exhibition is made possible by Christine and Stephen A. Schwarzman, and Versace.

Additional support is provided by Condé Nast.

“The Catholic imagination is rooted in and sustained by artistic practice, and fashion’s embrace of sacred images, objects, and customs continues the ever-evolving relationship between art and religion,” said Daniel H. Weiss, President and CEO of The Met. “The Museum’s collection of religious art, in combination with the architecture of the medieval galleries and The Cloisters, provides the perfect context for these remarkable fashions.”

In celebration of the opening, the Museum’s Costume Institute Benefit, also known as The Met Gala, will take place on Monday, May 7, 2018. The evening’s co-chairs will be Amal Clooney, Rihanna, Donatella Versace, and Anna Wintour. Christine and Stephen A. Schwarzman will serve as Honorary Chairs. The event is The Costume Institute’s main source of annual funding for exhibitions, publications, acquisitions, and capital improvements.

“Fashion and religion have long been intertwined, mutually inspiring and informing one another,” said Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute. “Although this relationship has been complex and sometimes contested, it has produced some of the most inventive and innovative creations in the history of fashion.”

Exhibition Overview
The exhibition will feature approximately 50 ecclesiastical masterworks from the Sistine Chapel sacristy, many of which have never been seen outside the Vatican. These will be on view in the Anna Wintour Costume Center galleries and will include papal vestments and accessories, such as rings and tiaras, from the 18th to the early 21st century, encompassing more than 15 papacies. The last time the Vatican sent a loan of this magnitude to The Met was in 1983, for The Vatican Collections exhibition, which is the Museum’s third most-visited show.

In addition, approximately 150 ensembles, primarily womenswear, from the early 20th century to the present will be shown in the medieval galleries and The Met Cloisters alongside religious art from The Met collection, providing an interpretative context for fashion’s engagement with Catholicism. The presentation situates these designs within the broader context of religious artistic production to analyze their connection to the historiography of material Christianity and their contribution to the perceptual construction of the Catholic imagination.

Designers in the exhibition will include Azzedine Alaïa, Cristobal Balenciaga, Geoffrey Beene, Marc Bohan (for House of Dior), Thom Browne, Roberto Capucci, Callot Soeurs, Jean Charles de Castelbajac, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, Maria Grazia Chiuri (for House of Dior), Domenico Dolce & Stefano Gabbana (for Dolce & Gabbana), John Galliano (for House of Dior), Jean Paul Gaultier, Givenchy, Craig Green, Madame Grès (Alix Barton), Rei Kawakubo (for Comme des Garçons), Christian Lacroix, Karl Lagerfeld (for House of Chanel), Jeanne Lanvin, Shaun Leane, Claire McCardell, Laura and Kate Mulleavy (for Rodarte), Thierry Mugler, Norman Norell, Guo Pei, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli (for Valentino), Pierpaolo Piccioli (for Valentino), Elsa Schiaparelli, Raf Simons (for his own label and House of Dior), Riccardo Tisci (for Givenchy), Jun Takahashi (for Undercover), Isabel Toledo, Philip Treacy, Donatella Versace (for Versace), Gianni Versace, Valentina, A.F. Vandevorst, Madeleine Vionnet, and Vivienne Westwood.

Exhibition Credits
The exhibition—a collaboration between The Costume Institute and the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters—is organized by Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute, working together with colleagues in The Met’s Medieval department: C. Griffith Mann, Michel David-Weill Curator in Charge of the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters; Barbara Drake Boehm, Paul and Jill Ruddock Senior Curator for The Met Cloisters; Helen C. Evans, Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator of Byzantine Art; and Melanie Holcomb, Curator.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), the interdisciplinary architecture and design firm, will create the exhibition design with The Met’s Design Department. Raul Avila will produce the gala décor, which he has done since 2007.

Related Content
A publication by Andrew Bolton will accompany the exhibition and will include texts by authors David Morgan and David Tracy in addition to new photography by Katerina Jebb. It will be published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press.

A special feature on the Museum’s website, www.metmuseum.org/HeavenlyBodies, provides further information about the exhibition. Follow us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter to join the conversation about the exhibition and gala. Use #MetHeavenlyBodies, #CostumeInstitute, and #MetGala on Instagram and Twitter.

2017 Met Gala: Event Photos and Videos

The 48th annual Costume Institute Gala, also known as the Met Gala, took place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on May 1, 2017. Because the theme was “Rei Kawakubo/Commes des Garcons: Art of the In Between,” guests were encouraged to dress in avant-garde fashions. The event is an annual fundraising gala for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. This year, the Met Gala was co-chaired by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, Tom Brady, Gisele Bündchen, Katy Perry and Pharrell Williams. Here are photo and video highlights from the event.