I’m not difficult. I’m passionate, and I know what I want in life, and I only want the best.
– Paul Liebrandt, chef at Tribeca restaurant Corton
If I had to choose one word to describe renowned New York City chef Paul Liebrandt, it would be “reconstructivist.”
Whether that word is real or not is irrelevant.
I recently received an invitation to review a foodie film featuring interviews with some of haute cuisine’s finest chefs, focused on the career of Chef Paul Liebrandt. Reviews are not my typical modus operandi here, but if I’m one for operating modi typically, I’m as of yet unawares.
Besides, this documentary proved to be so well-worth my time that after watching it, I spent nearly the running length of the film talking in depth about its plot to an unsuspecting bystander who had not seen the movie.
Chef Paul Liebrandt takes an incredibly unique approach to cuisine, ambiance and ingredients, and exemplifies a creative drive that I find compelling. Awarded 2 Michelin stars and 3 stars from the (2004-2009) New York Times Food Critic Frank Bruni, Liebrandt’s Tribeca restaurant Corton has been making waves since opening to rave reviews in 2008.
While there isn’t much in the way of haute cuisine up here in northern Maine, that is what movies are for. Movies such as the recently-released First Run Features film “A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt,” which documents the chef’s rise to restaurant prominence from 2001 to 2010.
It is a relatively short documentary (69 minutes), but in that brief amount of time it successfully encapsulates the thrill of New York City’s restaurant scene – just as Liebrandt once encapsulated vodka tonics into serve-on-a-spoon pearls, as learned in the film.
I became a bit nervous when, a short ways into the film’s screening, two dishes prominently featuring culinary foams appeared in as many minutes. Luckily, those were the last sighting of those innovative but suspiciously overplayed emulsions. Interviews with renowned Chefs Grant Achatz (Alinea), Heston Blumenthal (The Fat Duck), Thomas Keller (Per Se), and Éric Ripert (Le Bernardin) added to the culinary credibility of the production, and assuaged any misgivings I may have briefly harbored.
Directed by Sally Rowe, A Matter of Taste won the 2012 James Beard Award for best documentary. In tracing Liebrandt’s bumpy and nonconventional route to culinary stardom, the film chronicles both positive and negative reactions from his critics over the years, with one baffled reviewer labeling his cuisine as a “failed science experiment.” I personally would love to try his Beer and Truffle Soup, and would only be slightly less enthusiastic about the possibilities of Eel, Violets and Chocolate.
Fast-forward to today, and Liebrandt – now critically acclaimed and well-ensconced in his modern French restaurant Corton – is still creating head-turning dishes that I would give my right arm to try.
Corton offers Seasonal Tasting and Tasting Menus ($115 and $155, respectively), with current items including Amadai (Frog Legs, Nasturtium, Cherry), Crayfish (Tortellini of Ricotta, Peanut, Sorrel, Burnt Eggplant Meringue), and the most appealing to me, Chocolate, featuring apricot and sesame paired with Mast Brothers’ Sambirano Valley cacao.
For your viewing pleasure, here is one of those culinary foams, or should I say, “Espumas.”
If you have an interest in the restaurant world, in fine dining, in cuisine as science, or in gratuitous swears, this movie is for you. It is both fascinating and uplifting to see the creative genius that is Paul Liebrandt pay his dues, and accrue respect in the culinary world. It is also proof positive that I am not cut out for a culinary career: these dedicated individuals give 18 hours a day to their jobs, 6 to 7 days a week.
And while my own personal highlight was seeing Liebrandt happily caress a small dog while wearing a Nine Inch Nails tee shirt, there is much more to the film than the juxtaposition of the chef’s seemingly-sparse home life with my least favorite industrial metal band.
Available from First Run Features
239 West Broadway (between Walker & White Streets)
New York, NY 10013