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A World-Famous Pastry Chef's Heartbreaking Regret

Sep 27, 2019 | 831 videos
Video by Breakwater Studios

The impulse to strive for excellence is something that was instilled in Milton Abel II from childhood. Growing up in Kansas City, the famed jazz musician Milton Abel Sr. immersed his son in the vibrant world of live music, where he was exposed to dedicated artists like his father. When the younger Abel moved to New York and embarked on his dream of working in the culinary arts, it only followed that he would pursue that path with fervor.

“My dad was the best at what he did,” says Milton Abel II in Ben Proudfoot’s short documentary That’s My Jazz. “So it was important for me to carry on that legacy, and try to be a part of an elite few in whatever profession I chose.” In the film, premiering on The Atlantic today, Abel reflects upon his ascension to the upper echelons of the restaurant world. After talking the celebrity chef Thomas Keller into hiring him at French Laundry, Abel went on to work at Per Se and Noma, then the best restaurant in the world. He nurtured his career as a world-class pastry chef with an ardent devotion to the craft, infusing the essence of jazz into his desserts.

“I was totally enamored with how his story inextricably tied music and cuisine together,” Proudfoot told me. The filmmaker evokes this unique fusion with dramatic black-and-white cinematography of Abel preparing elegant desserts with the virtuosic spirit of his father’s jazz.

When Abel Sr. passed away, Abel II was forced to reevaluate his priorities. “He was able to be a professional and a father, and do them both at the highest level—Hall of Fame jazz musician and Hall of Fame dad,” Abel says in the film. “I wasn’t going to be able to do both, so I had to choose what was more important to me.” In the film’s most emotional moments, Abel ruminates on the regrets he has about not being there for his father in his time of need. These feelings contribute to his ultimate decision to step away from the fast-paced life of an elite chef, and instead open a modest bakery.

“It’s a dilemma a lot of young adults face when our star is rising, just as our parents are retiring,” Proudfoot said. “It’s this common sunrise-sunset moment that I very much connect with.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.