In 2000, chef Paul Liebrandt was awarded 3 stars by the New York Times – at 24 he was the youngest to receive such acclaim. Post September 11th, however, no one was interested in such hyper-modern dishes as “espuma of calf brains and foie gras” and “eel,violets and chocolate.” A rare insight into the cutthroat world of haute cuisine, “A Matter of Taste” charts Paul’s struggles over the next decade both in and out of the kitchen as he tries to make his way back to the top. [Synopsis courtesy of SXSW]
“A Matter of Taste”
Director: Sally Rowe
Producer: Alan Oxman, Rachel Mills, Sally Rowe
Cast: Paul Liebrandt, Thomas Keller, Heston Blumenthal, Frank Bruni, William Grimes
Editor: Amy Foote
Sound: Ian Gelfand
Music: John M. Davis
Responses courtesy of “A Matter of Taste” director Sally Rowe.
Getting hooked onto filmmaking…
I was 23 living in Thailand crewing on a sailboat when a friend of mine asked if I was available to PA on a film. Film was something I was always interested in but I had never had a chance to get involved. After working on set for a while I was drawn to what happens after shooting and I worked my way into the edit room as an apprentice editor. After editing the film in LA, I took a summer film course at NYU. From then on I was hooked. Over 15 years, I worked as an assistant editor, editor, script supervisor and even in the grip and electric department — all to get a taste of how a film comes together. I had always thought I wanted to direct narratives, but then reality set in and I realized financially that might not be feasible; docs, seemed more realistic. However, I didn’t anticipate “A Matter of Taste” taking a decade to complete.
“The makings of a film that I wanted to see”…
In 2000 I ate at Atlas in New York when Paul Liebrandt was the chef. I had not eaten anything like it before. I ended up befriending Paul and soon realized how kitchens were run and what goes on behind the scenes. It occurred to me that many people probably didn’t know the extent of what went on in a high-end kitchen – the amount of hard work, long hours and artistry is staggering. At 23, the kind of food Paul was putting out took great courage, training, and intelligence – I mean dishes like espuma of calf’s brain and foie gras, eel and violets, beer and truffle soup – in 1999 you just didn’t come across this kind of food. Combine dishes like that with a chef who can come off as arrogant, who looses his temper, who expects perfection from everyone; it seemed like the makings of a film that I wanted to see.
Following a chef…
Shooting in a kitchen is loud, hot and stressful. In the beginning, Paul wasn’t accustomed to having a camera in his workspace. We shot mostly vérité in the kitchen though there were some sit down interviews we conducted in a more controlled environment. I shot several other chefs as I thought the film might be more interesting having other kitchens involved but nothing came across as beautifully on camera as Paul’s food. Also, at such a young age, it was a story that we could follow over time.
Cutting it down…
Many aspects of making this documentary were challenging – trying to convey taste through a visual medium; trying to get someone who is highly creative to discuss his process; dealing with the pure volume of footage from a ten year shoot with different cameras and formats.
After shooting for so long, it was clear to me that I was dealing with some great footage and some not so great footage and I needed a really good editor to help me find the story. Thankfully I heard about The Edit Center and they accepted my film as a class project. Alan Oxman and Rachel Mills came on as producers and put me in touch with my wonderful editor Amy Foote. They have all been invaluable and helped tremendously.
Gorging on set…
Shooting in some of New York’s great kitchens we were constantly being fed, over time we had to resist the continuous flow of amazing tid-bits as we would get side tracked by the food we were eating instead of filming!
Plans for the future…
I have a couple of doc projects that I’m interested in, one involving a family farm in New Zealand. I also have a narrative feature in the works.