Lisa Dinsmore

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.

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ImageI LOVE risotto. It's one of the many things I had never eaten before I moved to California. Never even heard of it in my two decades of growing up in Western Massachusetts. I know that seems hard to believe, but I made my parents risotto when they came out to visit 5 years ago and they had no idea what it was. Seriously. Italian food growing up was lasagna, pasta with red sauce or pizza. I can't remember the first risotto I ever ate, but I know I was instantly hooked because it's the dish I always order whenever I see it on the menu...or hear it as the special. I just can't help myself. I love the creamy, chewy consistency of it, the homeyness, the endless possibilities. It's a dish I make at least 3-4 times a month, as it's fairly simple and hard to screw up. Or so I thought. Apparently, I've been serving it all wrong.

I got a hint of my wrongdoing when I watched a recent Top Chef All-Star show and Tre, one of the chef/contestants, got lambasted by Tom Colicchio and Anthony Bourdain, two of the judges, for making risotto that was too thick and sticky. Apparently, it's supposed to be more fluid and al dente, spreading out to cover the plate without any help – like a wave. He offended their risotto sensibilities and was sent home. It got me thinking. Clearly I had rarely eaten a "proper" risotto and never, in all my delicious attempts, ever made one either. Apparently, I was making an Italian rice bowl. I had to do better. And that's where another All-Star contestant comes in.

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bacon friesI can't believe I'm actually writing this. Man, does time fly. While 2009 was the year I expanded my food palate, I'd have to say my most memorable bites of the last year were ones that put a twist on old favorites...making me appreciate them again in a whole new way. Some are fancy, but most were just damn good, simple comfort food that let the best ingredients speak for themselves. Just looking at the photos I can still taste them all....and want them all over again.

Bacon Dusted Fries from Nosh Kitchen + Bar – Portland, Maine

Yes, I am serious. These were the most memorable things I put in my mouth all year. Why? Because who doesn't love French Fries and yet, this version took them to a whole different level. We decided to share the bucket since we were each eating a sandwich as well, but the minute I put one in my mouth I wanted to bogart the whole thing. Or order another round. We restrained ourselves, but just barely. I don't know how they make bacon dust (it looked like powdered sugar), but I applaud whatever process brought it into the world. I never thought French Fries could be improved upon, but I was wrong.

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ImageMy favorite sandwich as a child was a Grilled Cheese. It still is today. I'm continually amazed at how something so basic – bread and cheese – becomes something so sublime. I think I could eat one everyday and never get tired of it. Especially considering all the bread and cheese choices out there. It boggles the mind and whets my appetite. Want something more substantial add a little ham to it. Now, it's a real meal and even more delightful.

Until two years ago, I never imagined this classic pairing could be improved upon.  And certainly not with something so ordinary as an egg. Sometimes food takes you by surprise, though I find this happening less and less as I get older. I was wary of ordering my favorite sandwich, with a fried egg on top– a concoction that was called a Croque Madame – but I was trying to branch out and it was my birthday, so I figured what the hell.

This classic French sandwich, usually made with Gruyere and smoked ham, also includes a healthy dose of Mornay (cheese) sauce, so I figured if I didn't like the egg, I could just scrape that off and enjoy the rest. There's almost nothing cheese sauce can't fix. I'm generally a scrambled egg-type of gal, so the sight of the bright, yellow yolk oozing all over my bready, cheesy goodness gave me a moment's pause, but once I dove in my palate was changed forever. The egg took the experience to a whole other level I didn't think possible – it actually improved the best sandwich in the world.

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shoes.jpg It's all Stacy B's fault. I hate exercise. I'm not a runner. Yet somehow I found myself wrapped up in her enthusiasm for extreme sporting events and agreed to run my first 10k. Though not just your, run-of-the-mill road race, but the annual Camp Pendleton Marine Corp Mud Run. A 6.3 mile race where I would be constantly wet, covered in mud and guaranteed to come away from the experience scraped and bruised like a week-old tomato that fell off the truck. Did I mention that I also detest being wet? Perhaps I was a cat in a past life. Of course, if I was, hoisting myself over those 5-foot walls should have been a whole lot easier.

My generally philosophy with life is if you're going to do something you don't enjoy at least make it as interesting as possible. When I attempted to learn how to play golf, I always chose to play on courses that were, at the very least, visually stunning. No wide-open, flat, burned-out, public courses for me. That way I could distract myself with the natural beauty of my surroundings (the ocean, mountains or grapevines) instead of focusing my white-hot, internal rage on the tiny, unruly white ball that failed to do my bidding. Which is how I came to the Mud Run. No boring, flat, road race was going to do. Give me an obstacle course filled with walls, rivers, a lake, crawling through tubes and under fences.

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