Sally Rowe’s HBO documentary A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt (2011) follows British chef Paul Liebrandt as he works his way through a series of jobs at various New York eateries, providing a tantalisingly brief glimpse into the cut-throat world of high cuisine. Apparently, Liebrandt is a ‘controversial celebrity chef’, though audiences beyond New York or the rarefied circles of fine dining could be forgiven for asking who he is.
Compared with the fiery kitchen personalities we are used to, such as the foul-mouthed Gordon Ramsay and ubiquitous Jamie Oliver, Liebrandt seems reasonably tame – but certainly no less pretentious. He manages to remain cool most of the time though inevitably slips into expletive ridden chef mode when berating a young novice for serving up ‘shit’ towards the end.
If he’s as successful as A Matter of Taste infers, why then does Liebrandt seem unable to keep a job for very long? He decides to part ways with two restaurants he works for due to ‘creative differences‘ – which can really be read as his inability to provide food that people want to eat as opposed to ‘oohing and aahing’ over its appearance on the plate.
More interesting, and ultimately satisfying, is the film’s charting of the launch of the Corton Restaurant in New York’s Tribeca neighbourhood by the successful restaurateur Drew Nieporent, where Liebrandt eventually finds the freedom he has been searching for to express himself as head chef. However the ‘artiste’ within him soon resurfaces after he complains that the lighting in the dinning area is casting shadows on the plates.
Though entertaining, the film leaves one unanswered question – who really is Paul Liebrandt? Apparently, at the age of just 24, he is the youngest chef to be awarded three stars by The New York Times – the Holy Grail for cooks in the Big Apple. Sharp, crisp and minimal, A Matter of Taste has little substance beneath the surface, yet ultimately leaves the viewer wanting more.