Food, On and Off Screen

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Chef Paul Liebrandt works on a presentation in “A Matter of Taste,” screening Sunday in the Newport Beach Film Festival.

“Are you ready to eat your way through the Newport Beach Film Festival?” I asked Stasha as I perused this year’s Film Festival schedule.

“Overcooked hot dogs, over-buttered popcorn, and over-carbonated sodas?” she replied with a horrified stare. “No thanks.”

“I’m not talking about the concession stand food, which I admit is less than appealing. Dozens of fabulous restaurants are within walking distance of some of the festival’s theaters, while the main screening complex in Triangle Square is only a mile from more great restaurants. Which means—“

“Which means dinner and a movie,” interrupted Stasha. “Sounds good to me. Which restaurant and which movie?”

“With more than 350 films in this year’s festival, pairing the perfect cinematic masterpiece with the appropriate restaurant might be a challenge, but we could have some fun with it,” I said.

“Such as?”

“Such as trying to match the cuisine with the film’s country,” I suggested.

“Or just picking a restaurant that’s close to the theater,” countered Stasha, looking at the screening schedule. “Some of the films are at Big Newport, which is across the street from a handful of our favorite restaurants—Brasserie Pascal, True Food Kitchen, Roy’s, Rustica, Muldoon’s, The Ritz.”

“Good point,” I agreed. “And the Lido Theatre is screening films every day, with plenty of fantastic restaurants nearby—Pescadou, Regatta Café, Lido Deck, The Cannery, Commonwealth, Woody’s Wharf.”

“But what about Triangle Square? That’s in Costa Mesa.”

“True, but there are a number of restaurants on Coast Highway near Newport Blvd. that are a stone’s throw away from the theater,” I suggested. “A Restaurant, Villa Nova, Billy’s at the Beach, Rusty Pelican…”

“And The Arches is not far, nor is Haute Cakes. We could eat lunch there and grab one of their redonculous desserts to take with us,” said Stasha with a smile. “So, now that we have some options, back to my original question: which films?”

“The opening night film, of course, and the closing night—both have parties afterwards, and who doesn’t like parties,” I laughed. “But there’s one film I don’t want to miss. It’s a documentary about a chef and it’s perfect for foodies, or anyone that wants to understand the artistry behind creative cuisine.”

“Chris, you know I was a professional chef, so you have me curious. What’s the film?”

“’A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt.’ It screens on May 1, and it’s a must-see.”

I explained to Stasha that the film is a documentary shot over a decade that follows the career of Chef Liebrandt from age 24 – when he was lauded as the next culinary superstar for his hyper-modern (some say weirdly wonderful) dishes, to his fall from gastronomic grace to his rejuvenation with his latest New York restaurant, Corton.

“Sound’s fascinating!” exclaimed Stasha.

“I thought so too, which is why I interviewed the director, Sally Rowe, about the project. Apparently she became intrigued after tasting Liebrandt’s cuisine at Atlas Restaurant in New York when he was only 24. It forced her to really think about what she was eating because it took her a few minutes to process the unusual flavor combinations and texture choices—not to mention the architecture and artistry in each dish. She said the food on the plate looked so beautiful that it demanded to be filmed.”

“Now I’m intrigued. Tell me more.”

“Well, Rowe said she wanted the public to understand the amount of hard work and inventiveness that goes into cooking at the highest level, and also Liebrandt’s drive and determination to be recognized as one of the best chefs in the country. Judging from the two-minute preview video on the film’s website (, he does rank high in culinary creativity.”

“Wait a second, let me watch the trailer—“

I waited patiently for Stasha’s reaction.

“Wow, now I really want to see this film, particularly because kitchens offer a difficult shooting environment.”

“Exactly what Rowe said. Her description was ‘noisy, hot, lots of action going on, pots clanging—definitely a challenge.’ She also stated emphatically that she and her team had to keep out of the way—Liebrandt  would tell them where to stand. Eventually they became part of the kitchen and got to know everyone there.”

“What’s fascinating to me is the complete polarity of critics’ responses to his avant garde approach to cuisine,” Stasha pondered. “I mean,William Grimes likened Paul to ‘a pianist who seems to have found a couple of dozen extra keys,’ while gourmet critic Jonathan Gold called the food ‘the result of a failed science experiment.’”

“You hit it on the head,” I agreed. “He became a chef critics loved or loved to hate.”

“Degustibus, non est disputandum,” Stasha grinned. “In matters of taste there is no dispute. So, let’s grab dinner and see ‘A Matter of Taste,’ then decide for ourselves.”


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