Can one reconstruct the physical and psychological sensations of foods past? Or is the historical act of eating lost to time? These questions ricocheted around Yotam Ottolenghi’s mind in the summer of 2018. To complement its exhibition on “Visitors to Versailles (1682–1789),” New York’s Metropolitan Museum enlisted Ottolenghi, the celebrated Israeli-English chef, for a special event. His task was to morph “food, art, and history” into one—to curate a live display of cakes inspired by the French court. Laura Gabbert’s recent film follows Ottolenghi—and his all-star team of pastry chefs—as they recreated the culinary world of Versailles and its two hundred years of history. The documentary captures the process of telling a historical narrative through the medium of cake.

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles is, first and foremost, a delight to watch. Its production is slick and its cinematography lovely. There are also gripping moments of drama. Egos clash...

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