Interview with Chef Paul Liebrandt, formerly of Gilt – New York, NY

September 20
Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? Who inspired you to become a chef?
Paul Liebrandt: Well, I couldn’t sing or dance! My father was in the British Special Forces and wanted me to follow in his footsteps, which I found really scary. I decided instead to follow my love of cooking, which I’ve loved my whole life.

AB: Did you attend culinary school? Would you recommend it?
PL: I went to school in Westminster, London. Culinary school is a great base for knowledge, but it’s a really expensive investment for young people. In my kitchen, it’s not primarily culinary school grads, so while it can only help, I certainly don’t think it’s a necessity.

AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
PL: I think that above all, it should be fun, and bring a smile to your face. I could have created a French restaurant in the serious style of Alain Ducasse, but I wanted something a little more relaxed.

AB: Who are your mentors? And what is the most important thing you learned from them?
PL: Pierre Gagnaire taught me the importance of spontaneity, of not looking only in one direction, of breaking the routine of cooking and working with what is created with an open mind.

AB: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like?
PL: Gomo Gellan, which is micro-organism based, is great. I use it to make hot jellies and hot liquid gels that can even be deep fried. I use the gellan to make an interesting fizzy gel with parsley jus and Champagne.

AB: What flavor combinations do you favor?
PL: I like rhubarb, coffee and artichoke together. The coffee brings everything out of the rhubarb and artichoke and gives them a depth they don’t reach on their own.

AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
PL: My surgical tweezers are indispensable when I’m plating, and I place each herb leaf one at a time. Fingers just can’t do that sort of work.

AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or used in an unusual way?

PL: I make a Royale of hare, which is traditionally braised and I pair it with langoustines. I roll the Royale into a cylinder, cook it sous-vide very gently for two hours, then sear it, and sous-vide it again. Then, I cook it again. It sounds like a lot, but the hare holds up perfectly.

AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
PL: I like to ask if the candidate is a hard worker.

AB: What tips would you offer a young chef just getting started?
PL: If you’re going to cook in this business, you’re going to need to give it your all: mind, body, and soul. You must be beyond dedicated to really be successful.

AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
PL: I always go back to Cuisine Immediate by Pierre Gagnaire, and White Heat by Marco Pierre White.

AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
PL: I like Paris, London and Tokyo, and the differences each one offers.

AB: Where do you see yourself in five years?
PL: I’d like to be a position stable enough to own my own restaurant, and from there, own two or three restaurants and grow into a brand.