The Allure of LudoBites

by Lisa Dinsmore
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ludo007logo.jpgThough I am not a foodie, I like watching chefs on TV. They are the new "rock stars" and their antics are often equal amounts amusing, terrible and inspirational (in the kitchen, that is). It's hard to imagine a city's food lovers more connected to a chef than Los Angeles is to Ludo Lefebvre. Trying to get a reservation to his tri-annual, 6-week pop-up restaurant is harder than getting VIP passes backstage to U2. (I'm guessing, but I don't think I'm far off.) When out dining in LA, the conversation, if you're with passionate diners, inevitably turns to the hottest local chefs and eventually to LudoBites - how many you've been to (3), which incarnations (3.0, 4.0 and 6.0) and how much time/how many computers you had running trying to get one of the elusive reservations on OpenTable…before it crashed for those trying to get into 5.0 and 6.0. This last time for 007 (back downtown at Gram & Papas), it went off without a hitch – that is if you got into the system in the first 2 minutes, which by the grace of God my Man did.

It's probably unfathomable to those living outside our city – which is known for its over-hyping everything (see Carmageddon) – why people are so rabid to get into LudoBites. For all the great press he receives from local bloggers and a certain section of the food press, there's equal derision by more traditional outlets that seem to feel that if he is such a great chef he should have his own restaurant. That the "pop-up" thing is just a ploy to make him famous for fame's sake instead of for the quality and creativity of his food. All I can say to that is he's been cooking since he was 14 (he's currently 39) in some of the best French restaurants in the world, so the man has skills. Whether you like how he constructs his plates and flavors, well that's up to you.

 

ludoamerica.jpgIt remains to be seen if the television show he created and stars in with his wife Krissy called Ludo Bites America currently running on the Sundance Channel, will help or hinder his reputation. It's part travelogue (they tour the country and do 1-night pop-ups in local joints), part reality show (the couple's sweet & quirky relationship is on full display), and part Kitchen Nightmares - mostly due to Ludo's behavior which can be a bit colorful (a lot of cursing and yelling) when things don't go perfectly. (Since his English requires subtitles, they sometimes fail to translate those bits, but believe me you get the drift.) These kitchen contretemps are no surprise since most of the locals he hooks up with don't really know or care who he is; however, after tasting his food and seeing what this dynamic couple pulls off in a night they usually are quite impressed, as well they should be. Well, so far anyway. While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, what the show does highlight well is Ludo's love of food and his desire to continue learning. His joy at discovering new ingredients and acquiring new skills (i.e. chilis in Sante Fe and learning how to make tortillas) is translated through his vast kitchen experience and skill into food that is familiar, yet comes with his own, sometimes radical, twist. His exacting standards create great fodder for the show and may come off as arrogant and childish to some, but it is still his reputation on the line whether he's in Omaha or LA.

ludofood.jpgThe theory behind the pop-up, at least for the Lefebvres was to enable Chef Ludo to continue to experiment with flavor without being tied down to a specific menu day in, day out. He's attempting to continually surprise both himself and his diners. One can hardly blame him for trying to keep his love of food alive after toiling for over 20 years in the kitchen. Does it always work? In my experience, I've loved some dishes more than others, but that's always the way it goes when it comes to food. His food is sometimes lusciously simple, sometimes filled with crazy juxtapositions, but his creations always challenge my palate and push me to go beyond my comfort zone, usually to my utter delight.

Los Angeles may be the shallowest, most celeb-obsessed place on the planet, but it's also one of the most fickle and if LudoBites didn't deliver, the Lefebvres would have been kicked to the curb and replaced in a heartbeat. It was only a matter of time before other chefs across the country jumped on the "pop-up" bandwagon, but none have been as successful with it.  I have no idea what's on the menu this month at 007 and I don't really care. He's a Master Chef. I know it's going to be better and more imaginative than anything else I eat this month. While anticipation is a big part of the experience, ultimately it's the execution that makes the trouble of trying to get a seat at the party more than worthwhile. In my experience, it's rare to be entranced and surprised by a meal, for food to become elevated into something more than merely sustenance and it's that fleeting feeling that keeps me, and the food-obsessed inhabitants of Los Angeles, clamoring for more.

Don't contact me. You cannot have my reservation. Try CraigsList.

 

Lisa Dinsmore is a writer, web programmer, movie and wine lover. She currently runs two review websites to share her passions: www.crazy4cinema.com and www.dailywinedispatch.com. She is also the Managing Editor of One for the Table.   

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