The HBO documentary “A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt” isn’t coy about presenting the chef as a sauce-drizzling Jackson Pollock of haute cuisine. Reticence, after all, doesn’t suit a man who makes a meal of eel and violets.
In 2000, while running the kitchen at New York’s Atlas restaurant, the floppy haired, 24-year-old became a foodie rock star, the youngest chef ever to receive a three-star rating from the New York Times.
Filmmaker Sally Rowe had the good sense -- or better fortune -- to begin her eight-year filming of Liebrandt in December 2001, as youthful arrogance collided with history.
In the months after 9/11, the film suggests, restaurant owners became convinced that New Yorkers wanted comfort food, not edible art. Liebrandt found himself serving up burgers and fries -- albeit gorgeous ones -- at a modest bistro.
He didn’t last long there, eventually landing at Manhattan’s Gilt restaurant. But history, of a sort, shifted again: William Grimes, the Times critic and Liebrandt champion, was succeeded by Frank Bruni, who gave Liebrandt only two stars for his work at Gilt. The chef was fired two months later.
The second half of the film is a redemption tale, as Liebrandt, along with restaurateur Drew Nieporent, open Corton in Tribeca. Rowe lets the tension simmer as chef and staff await the unannounced visits of old nemesis Bruni.
The documentary has fun with the espionage between restaurateurs and critics, and does not skimp on the food-porn dishes and kitchen drama.
But the real draw here is Liebrandt himself -- driven yet fully part of the aimlessness of New York after 9/11. The film ends abruptly and is vague about the chef’s early days in London and Paris. But as a portrait of talent struggling through uneasy times, “Taste” is just right.
“A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt” airs tonight on HBO at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***1/2
No national landmarks were injured in the making of TNT’s new, very serious alien invasion series “Falling Skies.” By the time we join the apocalypse, the creatures have pretty much cooked civilization and are coming for our kids.
Steven Spielberg, the executive producer of this gradually engrossing drama, has turned his back on cuddly E.T. types. The otherworldlies of “Skies,” called skitters, resemble hideous crawfish with spider legs, assisted by giant walking, shooting robots.
They’ve wiped out most of the world’s adults by Episode One, abducting human children -- young adolescents, specifically -- for slave labor and fitting them with “harnesses,” grotesque lobster-looking devices grafted along their spines.
Noah Wyle (“ER”) stars as Tom Mason, a history professor now part of a 300-strong regiment of survivors and resistance fighters battling the skitters while trying to rescue the children.
The series isn’t particularly innovative -- you’ll think “District 9” and “War of the Worlds,” for starters -- but earns points for introducing alien villainy well suited for the Amber Alert era.
“Falling Skies” premieres June 19 on TNT at 9 p.m. New York time. It will start at 10 p.m. in subsequent weeks.) Rating: **1/2.
Two great men of mystery -- Hercule Poirot and his definitive portrayer David Suchet -- are back in three new PBS installments of the “Masterpiece Mystery!” series.
“Three Act Tragedy,” which airs Sunday, finds the Belgian sleuth investigating a string of cocktail-party deaths, each get-together attended by the same gaggle of guests.
It plods a bit, and the hoary solution shows the 1934 tale’s age, but the lush settings, fine roundup of suspects (especially Martin Shaw as a hammy actor) and Suchet himself make this a solid entry in the “Poirot” cannon.
Next up: The cleverer “The Clocks” (June 26) and quirkier “Hallowe’een Party” (July 3). Several “Miss Marple” episodes follow in July.
“Hercule Poirot: Series XI” airs Sundays on PBS at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***
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(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)