It’s a little painful for me to be interviewing Paul Liebrandt, who, at Corton, is running one of the most brilliant, interesting kitchens in New York. It’s painful because he is smart and serious and well-spoken, answering my questions thoughtfully, when really all I want him to do is throw his favorite kitchen towel down on the table and dump a bottle of wine onto it.
I mean, it’s hilarious that this acclaimed chef uses the ShamWow in his kitchen, right? That his batterie de cuisine includes an orange cleaning rag hawked in 3 a.m. informercials by a man in a microphone headset named Vince Offer? A man who bleeds caffeine, who can actually make you want to buy a stupid manual food processor called the Slap Chop by sneering, “Stop having a boring tuna, stop having a boring life!”
But Liebrandt is talking to me about how well it draws the moisture out of fish skin, drying it out so it crisps beautifully in the pan. How well it sucks up excess brine from meats. He’s talking about its washability, how it saves him money on paper towels, which, when you factor in the number of seats in the restaurant and the amount of production the kitchen does, is a number that adds up in his budget. As he’s talking, he’s making his common sense sound like genius. And I’m thinking that this conversation is going down in flames. I mean, you don’t want to read about his budgets, do you?
“Is it really ‘as seen on TV’?” I ask lamely. Wait, this man works six nights a week. Maybe he’s never even seen the infomercial. Maybe he has no idea why this is funny. “Do you… have time to watch TV?”
He looks at me with slight offense. “What? I’m not a hermit,” he says. “Vince! The guy in the headset. Who’s he talking to on that headset? You know, he’s in jail now.”
Well, it’s true that no good will ever come from having a fistfight with a prostitute.
“What’s going to happen to him?” Liebrandt asks.
“I think he’s that good,” I reply. That guy can sell water to a well. He’s the kind of talent that will make people forget his shortcomings as a human being. Someone’s still going to want him to hawk their stuff.
“No, I think there’s an opening there,” Liebrandt says. He pauses. “…I could be that guy.” Apparently one night during service, he came out to a table of chefs with the ShamWow in hand. He laid it down on their table and told them to pour out their glasses on it. At least one of them went home and bought a case of them for his kitchen. And now they had to order more wine. I’m impressed.
“I could be that guy,” he says again. “People’ll buy it. I could do personalized ShamWows. ShamWow: Professional Edition. Chef-Certified ShamWow.” He’s warming up. And then: “ShamWow bathrobes!” he blurts. “You come out of the shower and you’re dry! You don’t even have to rub yourself with a towel!” I’m floored. This guy is a genius. I’m about to quit writing and offer to be his agent.
“It’s pretty good,” he says. “It’s pretty good.”
“You’ll have to come up with a better pitch than that, Chef.”
He pauses, thinking. “Every time! It works every time!...?”
“That’s a little better,” I say. “We’ll work on it.”