Rudie Obias

by: Rudie Obias
June 15th, 2011

Rating: 3/5

Director: Sally Rowe
Studio: HBO Documentary Films

Cooking shows have evolved in modern day reality TV. Back in the days of Julia Child, cooking shows were simply more instructional than anything else, yet now they have a spin on capturing the attitude and ambition of young chefs looking to become master chefs or to open world class restaurants. Even in cases like these cooking shows, they not only involve the passion and intensity of the kitchen, but what happens when the chef fails to keep their job, or the restaurant has to close down due to lack of patronage, or when foodie trends change, forcing a restaurants to change their menu to prevent closing down. This is exactly the drama I found so interesting about the second film in HBO’s Summer Documentary Series, A MATTER OF TASTE: SERVING UP PAUL LIEBRANDT.

Paul Liebrandt is a young chef and aspiring restaurateur from England. He immigrated to the States to pursue his dream of opening a world class restaurant in New York City. The film opens with Liebrandt during a photo shoot - he looks menacing, covered in fake blood over the head of a dead pig. This is a very haunting image, but it is immediately cut with the charming wit of Liebrandt. He jokes about how “this is an appropriate image for someone who’s looking for venture capital money” to start a restaurant. This is just a taste of his personality that drives the documentary, and from the start, viewers are drawn in.

The documentary spans between 2002 to 2008, as Liebrandt works as a chef of a neighborhood bistro, frustrated by cooking hamburgers and French fries, to opening his own restaurant in Tribeca and the pursuit of wanting the restaurant to be well-received by critics and publications, namely The New York Times. What I found so interesting about this film was the hard work in going to build a kitchen, training a wait staff, and creating an atmosphere that would highlight the artistry and flavor of the food. This film effectively captures what it must feel like to be in a small kitchen on a very busy day and depending on your entire cooking staff, even dishwashers, to create a masterpiece.

The documentary show the audience what actually goes into receiving a two star (two stars is actually good) review from The New York Times - not only being on point for one visit, but having to create the highest quality of atmosphere and food for three separate visits from a single food critic. Restaurants in New York City live and die by write-ups and reviews from The New York Times, so putting that kind of pressure on a staff is nothing short of intense. This film captures that intensity so well, it’s almost palpable.

For what it's worth, A MATTER OF TASTE: SERVING UP PAUL LIEBRANDT is a very solid film, but the themes and stories explored in the film could've been explored a bit more to be completely satisfying. With a running time of 68 minutes, the documentary leaves a lot to the imagination. The film jumps in time in a drastic way, going from Liebrandt quitting a job at a neighborhood restaurant in 2002 to meeting the business partner who he starts a new restaurant with in 2007. Albeit a very minor criticism, along with the short running time, the lost time in the life of Paul Liebrandt leaves the viewer wanting more for a more fulfilling meal.

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