Don’t go into “A Matter of Taste” hungry: You might have to run out of your screening of Sally Rowe’s documentary on high-end New York chef Paul Liebrandt and grab the first available table at his haute downtown restaurant Corton.
That’s because this entertaining portrait of Liebrandt’s tumultuous first decade on the local scene — struggling with the whims of employers while facing personal issues and unfortunate gastronomic trends — is filled with appetizing, almost sensual visions of his most artfully conceived, scrumptiously executed cuisine.
amNewYork spoke with Rowe, a New Yorker herself, about the Tribeca Film Festival movie.
When did you first encounter Paul?
It was late 2000. I had eaten abroad and traveled a lot. When I ate Paul’s food at Atlas [where, at 24, he became the youngest chef to earn a New York Times three-star rating], I hadn’t eaten anything like it in the U.S.
What made his food special?
He had this apple wasabi sorbet that was a palate cleanser between courses. It was this amazing, just raw, burst of flavor. … And he was so young and doing all this stuff that nobody else was doing.
What else made you zero in on him as your subject?
I shot other chefs as well. When we started filming after we left Atlas, I thought we would make it a broader piece, but nothing stood out visually like Paul’s food on the plate. … We started filming him at 24 and everybody when they’re 24 is pretty cocky. But he was also a real worker. … He’s pretty funny and he’s got a dry sense of humor too.
What was his initial reaction to the prospect of being filmed?
Paul was like, “Yeah,” when we asked if we could shoot. He thought it was a bit of a lark and was fine with it. But there were times, for sure, when he was under a lot of pressure … I would tell Paul, “If you have to move me, move me. Just tell me where I can be.”
What’s one of your favorite Paul Liebrandt dishes?
Paul does this really wonderful foie gras cure. Anything Paul does with foie, I’m always first in line.
Is it surreal to finally screen the film?
Yeah, it is. You [work] away for all this time. We cut this film for about six months … It’s like any art form — you don’t really know how it will be received. … It’s been really great.
If you go: “A Matter of Taste” screens at the Tribeca Film Festival Thursday night at 8:30 at SVA Theater (333 W. 23rd St.) and Friday night at 10 and Saturday at noon at AMC Loews Village 7 (66 Third Ave.)