Ludo Lefebvre takes a bite out of the US
“Top Chef Masters” alum Ludo Lefebvre brings his pop-up “LudoBites” restaurant, first made famous in Los Angeles, to various cities this summer on his new Sundance Channel series, “Ludo Bites America.” The classically trained French chef, who Time Magazine recently named “Chef of the Future,” and his wife and business partner Krissy take viewers behind the scenes as they taste regional flavors, plan menus and do everything else it takes to open a restaurant — and fast, because they only have one week to create each. We chatted with Ludo about his experiences on the road.
What city gave you the biggest cultural shock?
I was surprised how difficult it was to get fresh anything in Mobile [Alabama]. You can get it, but you have to order three days in advance. It was a cute little city and I had a great time, but I could not believe how difficult it was to get ingredients.
What surprised you the most about the food scene outside of LA?
I think I was most surprised by how much American food I had never tried before. I ate po-boys, buffalo meat, red chile, waffles with my fried chicken, chicken fried steak, North Carolina barbecue, Rocky Mountain Oysters. It is amazing how many different foods are in America.
Do you feel like you were accurately portrayed on the series?
Yes. I am who I am. What we do is very intense and sometimes I express myself, loudly. I also think the series showed the other side of me. I love to have fun and joke around. Life is very, very, very serious in the kitchen, but outside the kitchen it is about having fun.
How do you feel inviting viewers to see the behind-the-scenes drama in the kitchen? Why did you allow the cameras to film you when you were angry?
I think it is good for America to see how difficult it is in the restaurant business. People don’t appreciate how much work it takes to put food on the plate. A restaurant kitchen is very serious and very intense. Opening a restaurant is extremely challenging and we do it every week for six weeks. So yes, I got angry at times. I don’t care that the cameras show it. I am so passionate about what I do and people expect a lot from me. Ludo Bites America is a real restaurant. People get their reservations and pay for their food. We can’t just say, “Sorry, this is a TV production so expect the service to be bad or the food to not be good.” This is real life for me and I take it very seriously. A failure is a failure, regardless of the city.
One of the guests in the Santa Fe restaurant referred to you as “Chef Crankypants.” Did that upset you? Do you think she was right or wrong in her assessment?
No. I think it is funny. I get cranky after I say the same thing ten times to the same person and they keep making the same mistake. So yes, at times, it is Chef Crankypants.
How do you successfully work with people who have a totally different approach to their restaurants than you do?
It is difficult but we make it work somehow. I have no choice to make it work; this is my staff for that night. I can’t just fire them or I would be all alone. I think eventually when the tickets start flying in and the customers are waiting the staff finally gets it and usually appreciates my sense of urgency after the fact.