Published Sep 29, 2011To contextualize this documentary for those unaware, the subject, Paul Liebrandt, was the youngest chef (at the age of 24) to have received a three-star review from The New York Times and is known for creating inventive, avant-garde cuisine for hardcore foodies.
Having a roller coaster of a career following this achievement, Sally Rowe's documentary provides a decade-long overview of his highs and lows, being fired from various restaurants for creative differences, leading up to his current gig at Corton, which received a one-star Michelin Guide rating in its first year.
Starting out in 2002, when he was serving contrary cuisine at Papillon, which former New York Times critic William Grimes described as "a dump," A Matter of Taste details the many banal gigs he was hired and fired from when not consulting ― designing cocktails and gourmet marshmallows ― eventually winding up at Corton prior to its opening.
Described as down to earth outside of the kitchen, the first half of the film describes his passion for experimental, high-end cuisine, noting his humble disdain for the comfort food he was asked to prepare at certain restaurants. Several interview subjects pop up to describe the unique nature of his dishes, which tend to be of the small portion, weird sauce, inedible garnish variety.
Once this background is laid, the action of the doc comes into play with Liebrandt having mercurial temper tantrums in front of his staff at the Corton restaurant, constantly babbling about getting a three-star review from Frank Bruni at the Times. It's sort of amusing and arbitrary to watch a grown man freak out about the perception of his food by an affected snob, especially when in the grand scheme of things, it really is just a plate of oddly juxtaposed food nonsense for pretentious poseurs with too much money.
Regardless, the build-up of tension while the entire restaurant dotes on the visitations and behaviours of a reviewer with overly flowery prose does create the illusion of engagement, even if the documentary clips past too many major points without explanation and only services the theme of American success superficially.
On the upside, the observation of self-identity and success as definable only by arbitrary external perception is quite astute. (Films We Like)