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Interview with Paul Liebrandt

Gilt, New York City

What's your favorite new ingredient?
Tapioca maltodextrin. It's a tapioca derivative in powder form. I get it from National Starch. It absorbs fat, so I can turn any fat into a powder. Right now we're making foie gras powder with fresh black truffles and we dust salad with it.

What's the most versatile spice?
I'm fond of the Sarawak pepper from Malaysia. It's a round peppercorn, not a long peppercorn. I use it in everything.

What's the most underused spice?
Black cardamom.

What items should be in every pantry?
Good olive oil, good fleur de sel and great butter (Devonshire, double cream and salted).

What's your favorite knife?
Masamoto knife.

What's your favorite pan?
Mauviel.

What's your favorite place to buy equipment?
JB Prince [jbprince.com].

What do you like to buy online?
Manni Olive oil from the Internet.

What's the kitchen appliance you wish for most?
I would like a cryogenic freezer for freezing the cooks when they misbehave.

If you could design one piece of serving equipment, what would it be?
A piece of marble that you could cook on, like teppanyakiÐbut it would be cold to the touch. You'd heat the marble to cook hot food on it but it would feel completely cold.

What's the best restaurant dish you ate in 2005?
I'd have to say it was at Pierre Gagnaire in Paris. I had a dish of oysters slow cooked with sous vide onions and a gelée of Pata Negra ham.

What's your favorite sushi place?
Masa [in New York City].

What restaurant would you want to eat in once a week?
It's a toss up between El Bulli [in Rosas, Spain] and Pierre Gagnaire. I used to work at Pierre Gagnaire, so I've eaten there tons of times. I've been to El Bulli twice. It's stunningly done stuff with a great sense of humor.

Are there any dining trends you see on the rise?
There are always different trendy things people do. Two years ago, people started doing tapas [and small plates] in New York City. Now you don't see it much anymore. I think what will really stick and be important is the cross between fine dining and the not so high-end, like with the opening of Gaya par Pierre Gagnaire [in Paris]. It's more simple, but it's very well-executed food. People will be shying away from three-star Michelin. At Gilt, the dining room isn't four stars, but the food is pushing toward that style. I'm trying to make it less haughty. You get the experience, but you don't have to wear a suit and tie.

A lot of chefs are getting into making things completely from scratch, like cheese. What would you like to make from scratch?
We make our own yogurt. We make our own bread, sorbets and ice cream.

On a scale of one to 10, with one representing an emphasis on using in-season ingredients as simply as possible and 10 championing high-tech, scientific cooking, where do you rank yourself?
Seven. Science is one aspect but you need a starting point. Without good ingredients as a starting point, you are very limited. Science is exploring an idea of an ingredient, but making bread is a science, making ice cream is a science. A good baker really knows about what yeast and humidity does to bread. It's the same thing for an ice cream maker and a chocolatier. That's what I mean when I talk about science. It's more real cooking. That's what I'm about.

What's your favorite cookbook?
White Heat by Marco Pierre White. It's still an inspiration. You see it in the photographs and the food, and it's stunning.

From whom would you most like to take a cooking class?
Apicius, who was a chef during Caesar's day. He was the first ever gastro-inclined chef who had some real recipes and technique. For example, he noted how to cook a lobster. It wasn't just about throwing it in a pot. He advised what else you needed to do. It was the first semblance of moving food toward something that is not just pulling it out of the ground and eating it.

Spanish chef Ferran Adrià has been a big influence on chefs recently; what or who do you think will take his place?
Heston Blumenthal [of the Fat Duck in Bray, England].

If you were given $1,000 to spend on food, equipment, travel or a restaurant meal, what would you buy? What about with $10?
Buy a ticket for each member of my staff and send my staff to Paris and have them eat what I've had the good fortune to already experience. What can you do with $10? I'd get a Pret a Manger sandwich. They're all good.

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