** A Matter Of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt
NYC chef Paul Liebrandt, the subject of director Sally Rowe’s A Matter Of Taste is a peculiar culinary talent. The film follows Liebrandt’s career through its ups and downs over about 9 years and you would think that would supply the filmmaker with endless opportunities to coax out the essence of one of the world’s most innovative and challenging gastronomical artists. It doesn’t. While the man himself is fascinating to be sure, a youthful, avant-garde food maestro that inspires some and confounds others, the film doesn’t succeed in helping us understand Liebrandt’s unusual perchance for quirky flavourings and unusual combinations nor does it enlighten us on how he fits in the scheme of things in the higher echelons of the world’s top chefs.
The film follows Liebrandt’s career in New York at Atlas, where he was the youngest chef to be awarded the Time’s prestigious 3 star review, to his turn at a very modest bistro called Papillon, to his brief tenure at Gilt and on to his partnership with famed restauranteur Drew Nieporent at Corton, a new restaurant built specifically around the chef’s daring approach to food. In its second half, A Matter of Taste tends to dwell on whether the new Corton will garner an all important 3 star review from the NY Times food critic Frank Bruni and begins to feel like any number of other similarly-themed TV programs about the restaurant biz.
A Matter of Taste isn’t a terrible documentary by any stretch, but it does seem thin given the degree of access Rowe was afforded and the long gestation the film took to get to the screen. I guess after Jiro, The Kings of Pastry and El Bulli, the bar for food documentaries is simply set higher than it once was. Liebrandt is a very interesting chef operating in a world removed from most of us mere humans and it would have been interesting to see what makes him tick.