HBO News Blog

A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt

By Jacob Klein on May 26, 2011 to HBO News

In 2001, Paul Liebrandt was a young chef making food that put a daring new spin on traditional techniques.  In the vanguard of what would become known as “molecular gastronomy,” he bounced from restaurant to restaurant in New York City, struggling to find the right outlet for his creative vision.

A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt follows the cutting-edge chef over the course of nine and a half years, documenting the highs and lows of an artist striving to find his place in New York’s cutthroat world of haute cuisine when it debuts Monday, June 13 (9:00-10:15 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.  First-time filmmaker Sally Rowe directs.

At age 24, Atlas chef Paul Liebrandt received three stars from the New York Times for unforgettable and hypermodern dishes such as “espuma of calf brains and foie gras” and “beer and truffle soup.”  He soon became a chef critics loved – or loved to hate.

During his tenure at the modest bistro Papillon, New York Times food critic William Grimes gave Liebrandt two stars, because “there was some inspired cooking going on,” but added that “he needs a bigger show.”  As the restaurant business weakened post-9/11, the owners changed the menu to cut costs.  Forced to serve burgers and fries, Liebrandt soon left Papillon.

A few years later, Liebrandt became the executive chef at Gilt, where he could make food that told a story.  Thomas Keller, chef-owner of Per Se, says Liebrandt was making cuisine that expressed his personality, noting that the food “was more based in traditional technique and traditional flavors, but still with wonderful surprises and new flavor compositions, and the execution became even better.”  But six weeks after the restaurant’s opening, New York Times food critic Frank Bruni awarded Gilt a disappointing two stars.  Liebrandt and Gilt soon parted ways.

In March 2007, Liebrandt was approached by restaurateur Drew Nieporent to be the chef and part-owner of Corton, a high-end Tribeca venue.  A Matter of Taste follows the two, along with restaurant director Arleene Oconitrillo (who is also Liebrandt’s girlfriend), as they work feverishly to get Corton ready for opening, testing recipes and perfecting the décor.  Amidst anticipation of a New York Times review, Corton has a successful opening.  Notes Nieporent, “I’ve never, ever, ever had a restaurant – except maybe, maybe Nobu – that has uniformly gotten this much critical acclaim all at once.  But what’s missing?  The New York Times.  The paper of record.”

Check out this special video preview below.  And don’t forget to DVR the film on June 13th at 9PM!


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