Pastry Puffing Out Architecture

During a recent screening of the documentary Kings of Pastry at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago's theater district, I had the pleasure of asking one of its leading characters, Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer from where his design sources come. He tells me he's a big fan of the work of glass artist Dale Chihuly, stating that he studied the processes and techniques of glass blowing, and incorporates them in some of his culinary sugar sculptures.

Kings of Pastry fell on my radar when I saw this image:
The expression on the chef's face reminded me a lot about architecture school when I had to build scaled models, trying to make sense of how to construct undulating forms out of bass wood. In this case, the chef uses chocolate as his medium. It made me think, constructing something out of foam core, bass wood, and paper was crazy enough, what is driving this chef to achieve something similar with a medium that has a potential to melt and carries an expiration date? So I watched the film:

The film centers around the process of becoming a M.O.F. (Un des Meilleurs Ouvrier de France) and chef Jacquy Pfeiffer's journey to become one. Getting those 3 letters meant becoming recognized as the best craftsman in France. Those who pass this competition, currently held every 4 years, are honored with a medal during a ceremony at the the Sorbonne and Élysée in the presence of the President of the French Republic.

I see  similarities in the process of becoming an architect, and in the USA, achieving the coveted 3 letters "A.I.A" (American Institute of Architects) at the end of your name.

Here are some parallels between the process of getting The "MOF" and The "AIA":

1. "If you wear those collars and you're not (a MOF) you can go to jail," says chef Sébastien Canonne, MOF. For architecture, the public can distinguish whether an architect is licensed or not, if they are members of the AIA. There are different membership categories. The most common are Architect Member and Associate Member. The Architect Member will usually use the letters "AIA" at the end of their names, signifying that they have passed the AREs and have been granted with an architectural license from a U.S. licensing authority. The Associate Member will usually have "Assoc. AIA" at the end of their names, and are not yet granted an architectural license. Similar to the MOF, if an architect uses "AIA" and one is not, that person is subject to civil or criminal liability.

2. Both require grueling processes to achieve. For the MOF, the chefs are subject to a 3 day test. For the Architect's License, one needs to take and pass 7 exams (it was 9 when I took it).

3. Both can be an emotional experience. As The UK Guardian has put it, "I never saw so many strong men sobbing at once," in reference to the MOF. The rigor of studying for the Architect Registration Exams can put a toll on the relationships of those who are taking it.

4. "There is no monetary reward for achieving the MOF title" says chef Pfeiffer. In architecture, there is also no monetary reward for becoming licensed and getting the AIA title. In fact, to maintain the title, the architect will need to pay for annual dues and license renewal fees.

5. I checked out the salaries for beginning chefs, the equivalent of intern architects and both are in the same ball park.

At the end of the day, it's really about what you are passionate about. There are so many opportunities to learn from various disciplines and apply those thought processes to whatever it is you're passionate about. For chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, he goes to museums a lot, studies about artists, uses inspiration from different art forms, and uses all these concepts and sources to improve his pastry craft. For architects, a similar cross-disciplinary mindset, where everything is a source of learning and design, can be a useful tool in paving the way for innovation.


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