Appellate Judge James A. Stewart is waiting for the sequel about gourmet marshmallows.
"I'm not a nut case. I'm just an artist."—Paul Liebrandt
Since the first shot in A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt is of a very bloody pig's head, and the next shot is of a very blood-spattered chef Paul Liebrandt, he was just a bit concerned about the impression he was making. Interestingly, he was on a photo shoot at the time. I'm not sure of the publication; are there any combination gourmet and horror film magazines out there?
Liebrandt, part-owner of Corton in New York's Tribeca, has three stars from The New York Times and, even rarer, two stars from Michelin. Director/producer Sally Rowe starts out with his stint at Papillon, which—soon after September 11, 2001—switched from his artistic cuisine to "neighborhood-friendly" fare like, you guessed it, burgers and fries. Liebrandt is seen at work there, still artistically arranging the plates and discussing "french fry tastings," but he's not happy—and soon, he's splitting. On his way to opening night at Corton, there's another unhappy restaurant stint, and some consulting on gourmet marshmallows and corporate-made cocktails. There's also the usual "Will we ever get this place open?" drama that seems to go with foodie documentaries. Corton, of course, is a success, so you won't be surprised when there finally is an opening night.
As you watch Liebrandt at work, you'll see him make bloody work of a fish, but you'll also see him taking artistic care with the plates he sends out. Liebrandt has a taste for gastronomic deconstruction that isn't quite my typical dining choice (I do very much like french fries) but I can appreciate the work he puts into the meal. The review by Frank Bruni of The New York Times, quoted near the movie's end, lets viewers know that Liebrandt is paying a lot of attention to how the food tastes, not just to appearances.
A Matter of Taste presents Liebrandt as a one-of-a-kind innovator with a hands-on attitude. There is a moment when he's "intense," as a kitchen underling puts it, but he's also seen gently coaxing his kitchen staff as well.
It's a fast-paced, visually interesting documentary. Two extras show that Rowe isn't averse to a little artistry with food herself: "Amuse Bouche," which artistically depicts food preparation, and "Carton et Lumiere," which simply shows the food with lighting and smoky effects. Also included are extended interviews with three star chefs—Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller, and Eric Ripert—who speak about Liebrandt in the movie; these segments are personal, glimpsing the lives and careers of the three chefs.
If that weren't enough, there's even a bit of cooking advice somewhere in there, as Liebrandt explains his pig cheek and clams has an "astringent flavor" that's not that distant from pig cheek and caviar, but costs less. Now there's a tip you can use when you're whipping up a quick budget-conscious meal after a long day of work.
Seriously, though, Liebrandt at work is something to see. Since viewers already know that Corton's a hit, and Liebrandt leans toward the workaholic, there's not much drama in A Matter of Taste. Foodie documentary lovers have likely seen chefs on film awaiting the reviews before. At the same time, it's is very well done.
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