Paul Liebrandt has been on my radar now for a couple of years; let’s face it, when you gather the accolades & adulation that the English chef in New York has (2 Michelin stars & a 3 star review from Frank Bruni in the New York Times, to name a few), it’s hard to keep a low profile. Last year saw the BBC air, the Emmy nominated documentary about the chef & his decade in NYC, bringing him to the wider audience of UK chefs.
Now, Paul Liebrandt has released a book; part biography, part cookbook. It tells of his journey through some of the most notable kitchens in the UK of the past 20 years, with such legends as:
- Marco Pierre White (The Restaurant, 3Michelin stars)
- Richard Neat (Pied a Terre, 2Michelin stars)
- Raymond Blanc (Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons, 2Michelin stars)
- Jean George Vongerichten (Vong)
- Gary Hollihead & David Cavalier (L’Escargot, 1Michelin star)
and then onto kitchens in France (Pierre Gagnaire) & NYC. Liebrandt, and co-author, Andrew Friedman, lay down what it is really like to work for exacting chefs such as Neat & MPW. The romance that surrounds the cheffing world is about as far removed from reality, as Heston Blumenthal is self taught. Incidentally, Blumenthal pens the forward for ‘To the bone’, likening Liebrandt to:
A kindred spirit – someone who,culinary speaking, speaks my language.
Personally having read ‘To the bone’ and several of Blumenthal’s books, along with having eaten at The Fat Duck, I fail to see the similarities. Blumenthal’s food is about extremes, he does things because it can be done, and yes he’s an innovator in those sorts of terms. But Liebrandt is more subtle than that. In an early chapter he recounts spending his only day off from The Restaurant – MPW (a Sunday). He links this story with ‘girl-watching’ at the pub, with a dish called ‘Summer crab composition’, saying:
The focal point for me , though, is the gelée, shaped like a summer dress and fashioned, appropriately enough, from Asian white beer.
If you are going to buy ‘To the bone’ for the recipes, I personally think you’ll be disappointed. In a 272 page tome, only 40 of them are devoted to the recipes of dishes which illustrate the book. But as a book, by a chef, then it is probably one of the most engaging that I’ve read; the way that chapters are interspersed with splashes of food pornography, beautifully shot by Evan Sung. Then it’s no wonder such chef luminaries as Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz & Daniel Boulud penned reviews for the back cover.
The deeper I delved into this book, the more I wanted it to be a coffee table version. It deserved to be more, please don’t get me wrong, what Paul Liebrandt & the people around him have produced is an excellent book, but you just want more.
Liebrandt’s writing reminded me of when I first read Richard Neat’s 5Questions, so eloquent & precise; ‘To the bone’ has the possibility of being this generations ‘White Heat’. Yes, I know that is a bold statement, but the sad realisation is that it probably won’t be. For all the food porn in ‘To the bone’, I just get the feeling that younger chefs will fail to read the early parts of the book, and unfortunately this is all to indicative of today’s young chefs; style over substance, where as Paul Liebrandt, is anything but.