Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Mind of a Chef: Ludo Lefebvre

The Mind of a Chef: Ludovic Lefebvre
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
Sun 04/23/2016, 12:40p-06:55p

Ludo and Krissy's Home

I recently had the opportunity to attend the filming of an episode of PBS' The Mind of a Chef, one featuring none other than LA mainstay Ludo Lefebvre. Ludo's the first chef of Season 5, and the episode sort of serves as a celebration of his 20 years in Los Angeles. One of the segments deals with LudoBites of course, and given that the rise of LudoBites coincided with the advent of the SoCal blog scene, the producers decided to invite some of us back to reminisce and relive a few dishes from the itinerant restaurant.

Joining me were a handful of personalities from the golden era: Diana from Diana Takes a Bite, Esther from e*star LA, Josh from Food GPS, and Jo from MoonBeach Diary (the blog formerly known as My Last Bite). Also present was Will Chi, co-founder of FoodDigger, a now-defunct restaurant review web site that--through its series of blogger dinners held at various LA eateries--was instrumental in bringing the community together during those formative years circa 2009. Will may also very well be the only person who's dined at all ten instances of LudoBites (including 1.0 that nobody knew about, as well as 9.0 in Hawaii).

Ludo getting mic'd up dual Asian peace signs
the infamous light box an almost Tom Cruise-esque crazy face
Ludo rolling his eyes Ludo's mother Colette
Preparations for taping, and the return of the infamous light box from Royal/T. Krissy was on hand, natch, and Ludo even had his mother Colette helping out.

2016 de Garde Grand Blanc
Not one to show up empty handed, I brought along a couple beers with me. First was the 2016 de Garde Grand Blanc, a golden rye wild ale aged in oak and refermented with late harvest Riesling grapes from Oregon's Willamette Valley. This seemed to go over well with everybody, its combination of tart, sweet, and decidedly vinous notes making for a harmonious marriage of beer and wine.

Ludo explaining his tender squid showing off his compound butter
Krissy regulates all eyes on the squid

squid pad thai
Our first plate was the squid pad Thai from 6.0. Though it was based on Ludo's favorite Thai dish, it wasn't immediately recognizable as a version of the traditional staple. However, it had its own charms. The squid itself arrived lightly cooked and snappy, and served as a foundation to the dish's rich umami flavors. I was a fan of the lushness of the peanut compound butter utilized here, while the bean sprouts provided a necessary lightness and crunch. Even more interesting was the zesty, astringent lemongrass, while the finish conveyed a growing, lingering heat. A promising start.

Andre Lefuel Diana and will examine the recipe spooning that foam
an exasperated glance soup torching

ham-sandwich soup
Next was the ham sandwich soup from 4.0, inspired by the classic jambon-beurre. Ludo initially wanted to put the traditional sandwich on the menu at LudoBites, but apparently thought it too simple, hence this remixed version. I was quite enamored with the broth, a super deep, hammy liquid enriched by a layer of gooey Gruyère while juliennes of cornichon and radish imparted a crucial contrast. Croutons, meanwhile, worked as a textural component and provided the requisite bready characteristics. Nice hit of bitterness on the finish too from the use of Guinness.

Ludo caressing tuna overhead shot the pepper grinder
snap that yellowfin putting Esther and Will to work
portioning the tuna Esther whipping the dynamite sauce torch that shit
Ludo looks defeated here torching on cam

2011 Marcel et Blanche Fèvre Chablis 1er Cru Vaulorent
Given that Ludo hails from Burgundy, it made sense to have some wine from the region. The 2011 Marcel et Blanche Fèvre Chablis 1er Cru Vaulorent came from the Chef's own collection. I quite enjoyed it, finding its bright, clean, distinctly mineral-driven nuances and lemon-y qualities well-matched to the food.

hot foie gras dynamite, raw tuna, lychee, cracker puree
The foie gras dynamite from 5.0 stands out as one of the most memorable LudoBites dishes for me. The Chef's apparently a fan of the trashy, quasi-Japanese preparation, and somehow got the idea to apply it to the well-worn pairing of foie gras and tuna. It wasn't much to look at, but managed to deliver in taste and sheer bravado. I got loads of nutty sesame at first blush, which transitioned to the sweetness of lychee and the enveloping creaminess of the Kewpie-sambal dynamite sauce, perked up by finger lime-esque pops of crunchiness from the tobiko. There were strong flavors at play, but the foie managed to stand up to them, giving up a liver-y essence that underscored the entire dish. Nice temperature contrast with the tuna, too.

so meta something's amiss
cooked the veggies gently Snapchatting carrots saucing
Esther looks concerned; Diana looks content taking a photo of you taking a photo

monkfish, légumes de la jardinière, vadouvan
Our last savory was a crowd pleaser as well, and came from 4.0. Monkfish was slowly poached in olive oil, and showed off a perfect texture that was simultaneously spongy, springy, satisfying. It meshed well with the aromatics of vadouvan butter--the spice permeating the fish but never becoming overwhelming--while the still-crisp veggies furnished the needed brightness.

get up close a look of despair not bad
another photo of a photo the requisite overhead shot

2016 Cigar City Hunahpu's
I opened up something dessert-y prior to our final course, the 2016 Cigar City Hunahpu's, an imperial stout aged on cacao nibs, ancho and pasilla chiles, cinnamon, and Madagascar vanilla. Though Ludo was vehemently opposed to pairing the beer with his panna cotta, the Hunahpu's actually made for a more fitting match than the provided sparkling wine thanks to the beer's rich cocoa and vanilla notes (and even Colette agreed with me on that).

crème fraîche panna cotta, caramel, caviar
We closed with a dessert that Ludo debuted at Bastide over a decade ago, but which most of us encountered for the first time at 2.0. A take on Brittany's caramels au beurre salé, it played the in-your-face salinity of caviar against the sugariness of caramel, while a base of vanilla-infused crème fraîche panna cotta offered a counterpoint to the otherwise robust flavors.

Not knowing what to expect, I was a bit wary coming into this, but I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The cooking was spot on across the board, with the dishes showcasing more finesse than they ever did at whichever iteration of LudoBites they debuted at. The food was only half of the equation though. LudoBites always had more of a people aspect to it, and it was fun to see some familiar faces from the halcyon days and look back on how we all came of age within the larger LA food community. I'll be looking forward to seeing how the episode turns out.


Anonymous LM said...

Just curious - do you know if Chef Ludo is the only chef for Season 5? Or will he be featured for half the episodes and that some other chef (unannounced so far) will be featured in the other episodes?

Wednesday, May 04, 2016 8:27:00 AM  
Blogger e*star said...

Ludo is doing half the season, so 8 episodes. They'll have another chef for the 2nd half.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger pdore said...

Such a good post. I know many people are looking forward to this season & it was great to have such a fantastic preview - thanks & keep up the good work!

Wednesday, May 04, 2016 11:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just watched the episode with you in it and I laughed so hard when Ludo threw a fit at you wanting to enjoy beer with the panna cotta/caviar. I'm glad they were able to capture that moment, it was so apropos of you. Really awesome getting to see you on TV!

Sunday, November 19, 2017 3:35:00 PM  

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