Chef Ludo Lefebvre. My introduction to him occurred while watching Top Chef Masters Season 1. At that time, I was still a newbie foodie and learning about “who’s who” in the culinary world. So when this cocky tattooed French chef came on the show going on about how he was the best only to get schooled, he quickly fell off my radar. A year later, his name started popping up in various food blogs I read. People raved about his fried chicken, his foie gras croque monsieur. All of a sudden, the name “Ludo” was equivalent to “Rockstar”. It didn’t click in my head that this was the same guy who was on TCM until I did a little research on him. Could this really be the same chef that I thought had an over-inflated ego and butted heads with Chef Rick Moonen? I had to find out…would the real Chef Ludo please step forward?
My first opportunity to try some of his food came at the First Annual LA Food Fest. Chef Ludo had set up a truck serving his famous LFC – Ludo Fried Chicken. Unfortunately, the lines were so long, I missed out on that particular dish. My second opportunity came when Ludobites hosted a viewing party for TCM Season 2 at Akasha. Husband and I got to attend and I watched the episode with a different perspective. By this point, I had read people’s accounts of their run-ins with Chef Ludo, their experiences with his food, to get the point that, hey, maybe reality TV was not portraying him accurately. Cuz, you know, that NEVER happens! Anyways, Husband and I fell in love with his LFC and my first impression of him melted away. Uh-oh…was I starting to become a Ludo groupie?
Still, I felt that I didn’t fully grasp just why Chef Ludo had such a fan following. To do so, I needed to eat more of his food. I needed to have dinner at Ludobites. Sadly, I was unable to get a reservation for Ludobites 4.0. But with Ludobites 5.0, I succeeded. I had to compete with who know how many other people but the poor overloaded reservation system processed my request and I was the proud recipient of a confirmation email.
Fast-forward to last Thursday, 9pm. I arrive for my first Ludobites experience, Husband in tow. We were seated and after looking at the menu, I could see in my Husband’s face that “I’m not going to like anything” thought concreting itself. *sigh* Maybe I should have stopped at Jack in the Box for him beforehand… I, on the other hand, was wondering if I could quickly evolve a few more stomachs to be able to eat everything. If there’s one thing Chef Ludo is, it’s innovative. There were things on that menu that made me go “What?!?!” and “I never in a million years would have thought to combine those things.” Pear kimchi chutney? With cheese? Maybe Chef Ludo’s crazy…. But, mad or not, my curiosity wanted to try it all. Since we couldn’t, I settled on 5 dishes, most of which I thought Husband would enjoy, even if he didn’t think so. Sometimes, us wives know better. ;) Husband did have a cute moment when he looked at me with sad eyes and asked “Where’s the fried chicken?” Awwww…
To start, we had the naan bread with salted coconut butter. Neither of us are fans of coconut but the butter had just a tinge of flavor and when combined with the warm naan, it was fantastic. The bread was soft and a little chewy, textural love! Husband liked the bread and tolerated the butter which was surprising and probably a huge development in getting him to go beyond meat and potatoes.
Next up was the grilled squid with heirloom tomatoes, black rice, an umami broth, sweet onion foam and a raw seaweed chutney. Husband didn’t come near this dish so I got to have it all to myself. It wasn’t my favorite but there was something oddly comforting about it. I think it was the flavor of the chutney…that “seawater” taste reminded me of all the kimbap my mom would make when I was a child, the trips to the beach in Hawaii and American Samoa where I would spend practically the whole day playing in the ocean.
Our next dish was the poached egg with potato mousseline, chorizo and squid ink powder. I think this was my favorite. I’m still thinking about it and would love to eat more right now. This dish really showcased just how skilled Chef Ludo is and the thought he puts into his dishes. When you took a bite of everything, it just balanced. If one of the elements was missing, I don’t think this dish would have worked. The squid ink powder was vital to texture while the chorizo added a rich meaty flavor and the poached egg…oh, runny yolk, how I love thee. Romeo’s got nothing on you! Husband actually complained that I was taking too many bites since this was supposed to be “his” dish. Apparently, he missed the part in the pre-nup where it states what’s his is mine… :D When our server came to take the bowl away, I was tempted to hold on to it to lick it clean.
The steamed duck arrived next. Sprinkled with a bit of crispy skin and served with a side of radish salad and a grilled white peach with a balsamic reduction, this was another dish Husband conceded to me. The texture of the duck didn’t appeal to him. He thought it felt too…raw. Then again, this is the guy who prefers his steaks charred to cancerous levels. I thought it was fabulous. Soft, chewy, moist, the duck was delicious and the crispy skin really took each bite from yum to awesome. I am also now a firm believer that all peaches should be grilled. They are just that much tastier!
Since I knew Husband would like the pork belly, I ordered that as well. Served with a Thai-influenced salad and a mustard ice cream, I let him have most of the pork belly which he devoured. He even tried the mustard ice cream but it was too “weird” for him. We did have a fun conversation thinking up other ice cream flavors to go with the mustard, though. I liked it and thought the cold contrast to the warm pork was excellent. The mustard flavor reminded me of the Chinese hot mustard but without the heat.
When asked about dessert, Husband was very interested in the cheese platter so we got that and the caramel souffle with the fleur de sel (sea salt) ice cream and white grapefruit. The cheese platter came out first and immediately, I attacked the pear kimchi chutney. I was surprised. First off, the kimchi had some spiciness to it. My auntie would be so proud! The pear added a little sweetness and when I combined it with a bit of the Saint-Nectaire cheese on a piece of the most buttery brioche toast ever, it was amazing! I never would have thought kimchi could have been used for anything else other than banchan or in daejung jigae. I think it was at that point that I finally understood all the hype around Chef Ludo and what he was about. Innovation, creativity, excellence…putting out the best dish possible and coloring beyond the lines. When he said he was the best, he wasn’t boasting; he was stating what expectation he expects of himself. I have to say, he was doing a great job at meeting that expectation in my book!
When the caramel souffle arrived, Husband and I realized we had no clear idea what a souffle was because we never had one before. I knew that it was a bit tricky to make since it was a finicky dish and just a tiny misstep would cause it not to rise. Well, apparently, the staff had no issues because I saw souffle after souffle come out of the kitchen. This was delicious and paired with the sea salt ice cream…I’m a huge fan of the salt and caramel combination. The white grapefruit added a little citrus note. Husband was gobbling this dessert down just as fast as I was, surprisingly. He’s usually not a fan of sweet and salty. Frankly, I’m proud of my Husband; he was definitely outside his culinary comfort zone but apparently, there was enough that he ate that impressed him, he enthusiastically agreed to attend future Ludobites!
As we were on our way out, Chef Ludo came out and thanked us and proudly told me that he made his own kimchi. A French chef making kimchi as good as my mom’s or auntie’s….sheesh! What will Chef Ludo do next? Personally, I can’t wait to find out.
5 NOMs for Ludobites 5.0.
Limited engagement at Gram & Papa’s
July 21 – Sept 3
277 E 9th St
Los Angeles, CA