In Context

The Meilleurs Ouvriers de France is a nationwide competition held every three to four years to celebrate outstanding French workers in 100 different creative professions.

The Meilleurs Ouvriers de France was created nearly a century ago to help preserve the quality of French artisan trades and to affirm the importance of manual work in a society that has historically prized intellectuals. Participation in the competition is recognized throughout France as the official mark of the country's most accomplished artisans.

The first president of the MOF association, Georges Castelain, outlined the groups ethics and purpose in the following speech:

Our organization should be an extended family where we are brothers and sisters from the same father -- work -- and the same mother -- France. Just as real brothers and sisters would, we should help and protect one another always. Once a MOF, the story does not end here. The MOF must continue their search for perfection to show that they are worthy of their title, to avoid getting stuck in a rut and to learn new techniques. Sometimes a MOF becomes a teacher, transmitting his trade and his savoir-faire to those who, one day perhaps, will follow his...lead. They can train young talent, helping those they think capable of going a long way, search for possible candidates for future competitions, encouraging and advising them. Such is a MOF's role in society.

Today, the competition is held for people in more than 100 different creative trade professions in France, from florist to carpenter to butcher to jeweler to pastry chef. Competitions for the individual professions take place every three to four years, with the distinguished winners serving as ambassadors for their trade.

Kings of Pastry documents the MOF pâtissier, or pastry chef, competition in 2007. In this year of competition, finalists were chosen from 80 chefs who competed in semi-finals six months to a year before the final competition. The two-day semi-final round took place at culinary schools all around France and was similar to an audition, with a theme provided; 16 chefs were chosen to move forward. Often, semi-final and final themes are announced six months to a year before each round of competition, which means that a MOF candidate will have spent up to two years preparing and practicing for the final competition. There is no limit to how many of the 16 finalists can receive the MOF distinction.

For the 2007 pâtissier final, the theme was "marriage," and each competitor was tasked with creating a wedding buffet that included a wedding cake, a sweets table and a breakfast for the morning after. The required items, divided into taste and artistic components, included:

Taste components:

  • Five types of miniature pâte à choux items (cream puffs, 12 pieces of each)
  • One three-tiered wedding cake to serve 30 people
  • Three types of chocolate candies (20 each)
  • One "restaurant style" (plated) dessert (four portions)
  • One brioche for two to be served with 1,500 grams of jam made with a summer fruit and associated with a flower
  • Three types of miniature afternoon tea creations (12 each)
  • One surprise item made from a specific basket of ingredients that would be unveiled to the candidates on the first day of the competition

Artistic components:

  • One chocolate sculpture that would be used to display the chocolate candies
  • One sugar showpiece that would serve as a centerpiece for the buffet
  • One small masterpiece, called a bijou, or jewel, that would be presented in a display case

Everything except for the bijou and the base for the sugar sculpture had to be created from scratch, in front of the judges, in just 24 hours, spread out over only three days.

The pastry competition is regarded as one of the most rigorous of the MOF contests, and the few laureates chosen at the end join the ranks of elite artisans who proudly wear the blue, white and red collar. In awarding its laureates presidential recognition as well as academic diplomas, the MOF recognizes those whose artistry and technique ensure that the French artisan trades -- and pastry is arguably France's defining artisan trade -- adapt continuously and remain a vibrant force in French life.

The honor comes with no financial prize; competitors pay for their own travel, supplies and other expenses.

» Kings of Pastry website
» Le Cordon Bleu. "MOF, or Best Craftsman of France."
» Pfeiffer, Jacquy. "The Kings of Pastry: Inside the Legendary Meilleur Ouvrier de France, Pâtissier Competition." The Huffington Post, September 13, 2010.