The Top 10 Industry Insiders of 2009

We did it last year, when this interview series was borned, and back then our pal Rachel Uchitel was #2 to a doorman. No more! Half a million pageviews later, Rachel, you’re second to none, but we’re retiring your number. It’s time to make way for the class of 2009.

10. David Chang The master of Momofuku can do no wrong. 9. Rochelle Gores Shopkeep of LA’s fashion-forward Arcade, Gores wants to close the book on boho-chic. 8. Mourad Lahlou Lahlou knocks ’em dead from San Francisco’s Aziza to Iron Chef. 7. Eddie Dean After a series of legal woes, Dean’s Pacha club in New York owns the night once more. 6. Wass Stevens Arguably New York’s most well-known and professional doorman, Stevens has transitioned upward into running the show, not just the guest list. 5. Rachelle Hruska The queen of Guest of a Guest sure knows how to get her name out there. Now quit accosting us at parties! 4. Richie Akiva, Jeffrey Jah, Ronnie Madra, & Scott Sartiano The boys of 1Oak are the supergroup of NYC clubland. 3. Paul Liebrandt The prickly chef from New York’s Corton has no time for your foolish questions. 2. Poplife Miami’s nightlife mandarins continue to throw one of the hottest parties in town. 1. Josh Wagner Our most popular interview subject for the year also hails from Miami, running the bar-side show for Morgans Hotels; he declared 2009 the “year of the bartender,” and he was demonstrably correct.

Industry Insiders: Paul Liebrandt, Haughty Cuisiner

Paul Liebrandt has worked in some of New York’s most prestigious kitchens — from the decadent Gilt to the critically acclaimed Atlas. His sometimes atypical ingredient pairings in his early days in New York sometimes drew criticism from diners and journalists, a sore point he’s still hesitant to discuss. His current post at Tribeca’s Corton has earned favorable attention and may arguably be his most successful venture yet. Although getting through to the chef took some doing, we got a decent peek into the culinary mastermind’s lifestyle.

Can you describe a dining experience at Corton? How do you mean describe the dining experience? What does that mean?

Can you describe the menu, the ambiance, the experience for our readers who have yet to dine there? Well the menu is modern, contemporary, I guess. French. It’s a very calm dining experience. It’s very refined. Very elegant. You feel excitement in the food and the service. It’s a very refreshing experience to eat here.

How do you react to criticism of your food or your restaurants? Excuse me? Criticism? What do you mean by criticism of my food?

Any sort of negative press or negative reaction. I mean … everybody’s entitled to their opinion

We’re just wondering if you take in stride, or if that’s something that hits home for you? It’s part of any business that you do … people have the right to voice their opinions. If somebody doesn’t like something, that’s their opinion.

What are some of your favorite menu items currently? We have a lovely Japanese Madai on the menu right now, which is lovely, with summer tomatoes and coconut.

What’s is the most unconventional or daring item on the menu? Unconventional. Daring. Well I guess it depends what you call daring, doesn’t it? What I call daring may not be to someone else. We do have a lovely Stilton cheese ice cream. We serve it with a foie gras. It’s really refreshing. We also serve it with a cold cherry soup. And it’s savory, not sweet.

How are New Yorkers different from diners elsewhere? In other cities where? In this country? Europe? Japan? What?

Is there anything that distinguishes New York diners? New York diners are very discerning; they know what they want, and they are very loyal customers. When they like you, they keep coming back.

Which has been your favorite experience in a kitchen? Which has been my favorite kitchen? Is that what you’re asking?

Yes. For what, the restaurants that I’ve owned? Or just in general?

Just in general. Where I’ve worked?

Where you’ve worked. You mean like my favorite working experience?

Yes, your favorite working experience. Well, they all have great things about them, there isn’t one particular kitchen which is better than another one. If I said that one is better than another one, all the other kitchens would get jealous, wouldn’t they?

What’s one piece of advice you would give to novices cooking at home? Choose good ingredients. And when you cook, it sounds a little corny, but I think it is very true — but cook with passion. And really love what you’re doing.

Is there a starter dish that you would recommend to someone who hasn’t cooked very much for themselves? Since it’s summer time, beautiful, beautiful tomatoes are starting to come out of the market. For myself at home, for someone who doesn’t cook professionally at home, say a lovely tomato salad with maybe a little bit of Burrata sliced over the top. I like smoked sea salt, which you can buy at any good store. Just that, it’s beautiful. Very, very nice.

Where else do you eat or go out in New York? I really enjoy Japanese food, so I’m a big fan of Bar Masa. And Blue Ribbon Sushi.

Do you frequent any bars in Tribeca or elsewhere? Not really, no.

Have you noticed any positive trends in New York dining? I think more and more people are using all sorts of sustainable items on their menus. More people are very aware of the impact of using locally sourced ingredients. I think in general, you see a much bigger swing in that regard. The area that we live in here, within New York City, upstate New York, the Tri-Boroughs, it’s very, very good for their locally-sourced ingredients. I think you see a lot more people utilizing that.

Do you have anyone that you would cite as a mentor? Pierre Gagnaire.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure? A weekend in Paris.

And what do you do during your weekend in Paris? Well, that’s something which your readers will just have to find out about themselves.

What’s your dream spot for a project? New York, of course. I live here, it’s my home.