Paul Liebrandt Ages a Decade in Sally Rowe’s HBO Documentary

“Ten years is a long time–and growing up in one hour and eight minutes is very compressed,” said the Corton chef Paul Liebrandt of the documentary about his career. Sally Rowe’s new documentary A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt, shot over nine years (it begins in 2001), is to debut on June 13 after a run at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. “When I was younger–I had maybe a little less experience in the ways of the world. Seeing yourself that way is interesting. Most people don’t get to.”

Mr. Liebrandt’s molecular-gastronomical inventiveness–at one point in the film, he ladles out a duck’s-blood sauce, and later converts vodka tonics into jellified bubbles–made him a particularly well-suited candidate for documentary coverage. “When we first started filming,” said Ms. Rowe, “I was going to do a broader film about many chefs, but nobody else’s food stood up to filming. His food translates on film really well.” Not since Julie & Julia has sauce felt so much like a cinematic character.

Ms. Rowe and Mr. Liebrandt got along well over the years of shooting–the film begins with an early-twenties Mr. Liebrandt, who quits his job at a downmarket restaurant because he is “tired of flipping burgers” and struggles for years to find a place of his own in New York’s dining firmament. “Kitchens are a tough place to shoot,” said Ms. Rowe. “They’re hot, they’re noisy–and there were times when it was hard or stressful for Paul, if he had a reviewer coming in”–the film culminates in Frank Bruni’s review of Corton being published in the New York Times–“he’d say, ‘You guys, I can’t.'”

“Sally’s a friend,” said Mr. Liebrandt. “It didn’t take away from what we were doing. She’s very courteous. She was filming a real business–it wasn’t a reality TV show.” As for what he thought of less finely wrought portrayals of chefs on reality television, Mr. Liebrandt said, “Everybody’s entitled to do whatever they want in life.” And, asked about younger chefs who may now be facing the challenges he faces in the early, ten-years-ago portion of the film, Mr. Liebrandt said, “I’m not in the habit of giving advice, people have to live their own life.  But I think the movie conveys the realities of the business accurately. It’s a marathon, not a hundred meters.” :: @DPD_