It’s been over two years since acclaimed chef Paul Liebrandt closed The Elm in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And although the chef was once a pillar of New York City’s fine-dining scene, best known for his work at the now-closed two-Michelin-starred Corton, Liebrandt hasn’t opened a restaurant since. The British chef and star of 2011 documentary A Matter of Taste recently stopped by the Eater Upsell to discuss what he’s been up to, and why he’s not especially eager to get back into a restaurant kitchen anytime soon.
Although Liebrandt describes not having a restaurant as “a little maddening,” he is decidedly not ready to open up another one just yet. “Anybody will tell you once you start doing restaurants, it's all encompassing. It sucks your life in,” he told Upsell hosts Helen Rosner and Greg Morabito. More importantly, the current economic atmosphere isn’t right for a Paul Liebrandt restaurant. “When there is opportunity to do projects, restaurants, etc., chefs will generally do them. When there isn't, they don't do them. Simple as that,” Liebrandt says. “The climate right now on the business side is not to open the style of restaurants that I've done in the past.”
More specifically, Liebrandt says that the presidential election has left investors nervous: “Investors are sitting there and they want to do stuff, but they’re still a little unsure with regards to [the economy] in this country and in this city.” He insists that this doesn’t mean that fine dining is dead, but until the business tide shifts to once again welcome restaurants like Corton, Liebrandt is seeking fulfillment through consulting projects.
In partnership with a management company, the chef offers his advice on any and all aspects of a restaurant, “whether it’s the back of house, the front of house, the food, the wine, the design, the financial model — all of it.” But, none of these restaurants carry the Paul Liebrandt name. “It's not about me at all. It's about the client,” he explains.
In fact, while Liebrandt likens a chef’s relationship with a restaurant to a marriage — “you don't know until you really get into [a restaurant project] if it's really going to be a long-term marriage” — he considers his role as consultant to be more parental: “I really enjoy seeing guys that have worked with us for a couple of years go off, do their own thing, and be successful and get Rising Star Chef, or get Best New Chef [awards],” he says. “It makes me feel very fatherly in a way. You see your kids, you want them to succeed [and] do better than you.”
As joyous as this may be, it’s no replacement for having a restaurant, and according to Liebrandt, he and his under-the-radar fine dining contemporaries (he didn’t name names) are just biding their time. “Yes, we'd love to open restaurants every day, but that's not possible. So what do we do? We're not going to stop cooking.”
Hear the complete interview with Paul Liebrandt below, as he chats about watching his younger self in A Matter of Taste, developing his business sense, and why you’ll never see him on a cooking show. Subscribe to the Eater Upsell on iTunes, or listen on Soundcloud. You can also get the entire archive of episodes right here on Eater.