10/12/2012 01:59:00 PM

Ludo Lefebvre on His New Cookbook, His New LA Restaurant, and How Food Media Killed the Word "Pop-Up"

Photo by Mathieu Bitton
Ludo Lefebvre's pop-up days may be coming to an end. With the release of his second cookbook LudoBites this Tuesday, which documents versions 1-7 of his long-running LA pop-up, Ludo will do one more LudoBites before settling in at a new permanent location with co-chefs/partners Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (Animal, Son of a Gun). We sat down with the chef and TV star (LudoBites America and judge on ABC's upcoming The Taste) and his wife Krissy to get the lowdown on the new eatery, his thoughts on the importance of bloggers vs. critics, the inspiration he found in his trip home to Burgundy with Anthony Bourdain and more. Check out our chat with him below.

Zagat: What made you guys want to do a cookbook about LudoBites?
Ludo: My wife pushed to do it. [Laughs.] No but I love to tell stories, I tell the guys: we need help - we need to do all the recipes again. 

Zagat: Do you write your recipes down normally?
Ludo: Most of the time no, so we started to do all the recipes. I mean look, thank god we did it. I think it was kind of creative and people realize how difficult it is to do a pop-up, it's not very easy. I'm so happy we have it because there are so many great memories at the end of the day. It was something very important in my career as a chef. I love my first book but this one is really me, it's really what happened.

Zagat: So are your pop-up days coming to an end? I heard there will be a LudoBites 10.0.
Ludo: We are going to do another pop-up next month in LA but it's going to be probably the last one. I want to do a "Best of" of all the dishes. I'm opening a restaurant so while the pop-ups were fun, it's like enough now. I want to have my own restaurant, my own kitchen and staff. It's time to move on. Nowadays you have some stupid pop-ups. It was different in the beginning but these days it seems like people do it just for press.

Krissy:  It's coming to an end as far as our full-time business model, it's really really difficult to do them. It's just him and I and we don't have any other full-time staff, so we're 100% in when we're doing it. It's been amazing and helped with the ups and downs of the economy not having the overhead but yeah the term in my mind has become really bastardized by the press, it's like what is it?

Zagat: I saw that you've had lots of random people come stage at LudoBites, including Fred Savage?
Ludo: Yeah...at first I didn't know who he was. He came a few times to eat at LudoBites, he came to the second one, LudoBites 2.0, I said who is this guy? And my wife told me that he was a very famous actor from that show, you know, from the 90s and Krissy invited him to come in the kitchen with me. Actually I like him, he really wanted to learn and he had a great energy. It was fun to work with him, he really put a lot of energy in the kitchen, he never shut up. [Laughs.] That last one I did I was a little mean with him - he was late so I gave him five lbs. of grapes to peel and he still came back and he liked it.

Zagat: Tell me about your new LA restaurant with the Animal guys. How did that come together?
Ludo: Now we are opening a restaurant with Jon and Vinny and we are opening another after too. We did the foie event together, they contacted me, they came to LudoBites all the time, and we become friends and I start to spend a lot of time with them. It was fun. Jonny asked me, he said: 'we should do a restaurant together.' In the beginning I wanted to open my own restaurant, and I said, 'you know what, why not?' They've already opened two restaurants, they have good contacts, we can open a restaurant together quickly. I love the idea to have three chefs together. If you look right now at music for example, you have so many artists collaborating, it's kind of the same. When you look at restaurants usually you find a partner for the front, why not have a partner that is a chef too? 

Zagat: Any decision on a name yet?
Ludo: Look I'll be honest with you, the name changed already, it's not Le Trois Mec anymore, it will be our business name. After I go back to Burgundy where I'm from, I get a lot of inspiration and the concept of the restaurant is from there. Sometimes I forget where I'm from, I lived here for 16 years and sometimes I feel more American than French. When I went back with Anthony [on his show No Reservations] over there I had some great inspiration. When I watched it again this week, actually my wife said, 'why don't you do what Anthony says? You should do restaurant like this.' [like a French routier or truck stop] Of course it wont be a routier like you see on TV, but the same concept -  a truck stop, but more elaborate and I want to do a good French restaurant.

Krissy: Yeah, the concept keeps changing but, but that's the current idea. 

Ludo: For the food, I will say French but we talked and we want Vinny and Jonny to bring some good American dishes too. I love Southern food and I think the food will be like 80% French and 20% American.

Zagat: On No Reservations you said you couldn't get decent French food in LA - do you stand by that comment?
Ludo: It's not like I want to bad mouth the chefs in LA, maybe there are some people trying to do French food, but I stand by what I said, we don't have a good authentic French restaurant. I mean give me a name? We don't have a real French restaurant. Of course we have some restaurants like Providence or Melisse, but it's not French food for me, it depends which restaurants you think are French restaurants. It's not a fancy frou-frou dining room but more like maybe a good bistro. We don't have a good French bistro and for me a good one has to be by a good French chef. Sorry. I'm not going to cook Asian food or open an Asian restaurant. I understand sometimes people open a French restaurant and they're not French, but how do they know? Have they been to France? No. We don't have a good authentic French bistro. 

Zagat: What about in New York?
Ludo: Oh yeah. I mean I love Balthazar, yeah New York you have chefs like Daniel Boulud - it's real French food, made by French people. They grew up over there, they understand the art of living, the new restaurant I'm doing we want to try to bring this art of living we had in France. I was so happy on the show with Anthony, all the ambience of all these restaurants, I love it. I love New York for that, I love the city of New York. People go out, enjoy food, enjoy life in New York. LA is sometimes a little boring, things close at 9 PM, etc.. Don't get me wrong - I love it - but I hope to create this French art of living in LA.

Zagat: On the No Reservations episode you seemed very inspired, is there anywhere you go to get inspired in LA?
Ludo: No. I don't find too much inspiration about French concepts in LA that's why going back to Burgundy was perfect timing for me, bringing back all my memories and where I'm from and what I'm good for too. In Ludobites, sometimes I'm cooking Asian food. You know I'm doing Korean steak sometimes, but it's probably not as good as real Korean food. What I want to do is do classics like do   a Beef Bourguignon but less heavy and using all the new techniques we have. A lot of French classics, but more light and more fun. I want the food to be playful. Like David Chang, what he did with Asian food. David Chang is a great inspiration to me, him and Eric Ripert too.

Zagat: What was your most chaotic moment that happened during the LudoBites series?
Ludo: We have a lot of chaotic times at Gram and Papas. That was the best pop-up. Working with Mike really helped me to be successful. It drive me nuts but I love the guy. When we were there, nothing was working, at 6PM the printer doesn't work anymore, then the A/C, then the freezer - it was just non-stop. 

Krissy: That was not the worst moment. What about when the sous chef walked out in the middle of service?

Ludo: We were at Royal/T it was a very difficult one. It was an art gallery, tiny kitchen, no walk-in, no space for prep, we were prepping in the VIP room in the center.

Krissy: It was a 10,000-square-foot space. One night the sous chef had gone partying for the weekend and we came back and nothing was prepped.

Ludo: So I came that day, and nothing was prepped, and I'd ask him about stuff and he just wasn't answering me and he was just like white, and we start service, nothing was ready. And we started to cook, and after 15 minutes and I said where is he? And his station was slammed with tickets and he was gone. He had left without telling us.

Krissy: He hadn't done his mise en place. We were in the middle of service and the only way to save things was we had to pull all the menus, we did like a $39 four courser, in the second seating, we started running out of stuff in the second menu so we had to pull that. At this point, I told a lot of people: 'you don't want to eat here tonight.' And I made it up to them later. We also had 12 bloggers there that night.

Zagat: You've had a lot of both positive and negative experience with bloggers, has blogging and social media made it easier or harder for restaurants?
Ludo: For us, when you do a pop-up, you have some bloggers that come in the first five nights, they blog about that, so it's publicity right away. In 2007, it helped too, we had no publicist, we had no money to do anything, so when the bloggers came, first I said who are there people taking pictures with these big cameras? What's going on here? 

Krissy: The traditional media, well if you look at the monthlies, there wasn't enough time for them to write about it, and the weeklies weren't sure whether or not to write about it. So we had to do social media to get that alternative coverage.

Zagat: Do you still worry about the opinions of the newspaper critics as much?
Ludo: I'm worried about critics but bloggers too and bloggers have power. Bloggers touch a lot of our clientele now. They reach more young people on the internet, bloggers are now as important as a food critic.

Krissy: For us, the bloggers have become our community - their generation, when we get something written by a big critic, that's really just expanding our audience.


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