Passion is a concept discussed often around here: What does it mean to be passionate about your craft? How can we work a sense of passion into our everyday lives? Is it a feeling easily translated to paper, or is it an indefinable sensation reserved for the heart? We’ve all been around those people who live with an unquenchable passion, an unceasing appetite for life. They’re the ones we call “doers,” the ones who put passion-fueled action behind the ideas many of us only dream about, and those are precisely the people we celebrate with our series, The Finer Points.
We are thrilled to introduce today’s guest because, although our crafts may differ, the passion with which we approach each is the same. Ludo Lefebvre is an internationally acclaimed chef with two prestigious Mobil Travel Guide Five Star Awards. He journeyed from France to Los Angeles over 20 years ago, bringing a thoughtful, refreshing culinary approach with him. Focused on delivering an exceptional dining experience, Ludo has opened four celebrated Los Angeles restaurants earning the love and admiration of foodies across the world, including noteworthy chefs like Anthony Bourdain.
We were honored to team up with Chef Ludo and his wife, Krissy, to redesign a collection of spaces in their Sherman Oaks home. Of course, we celebrated a successful install over the most delectable Petit Trois mussels marinière, and you know we couldn’t resist asking a few questions before our time together came to close. Scroll on to learn more about Ludo, the elements he believes any successful chef must have, and where he’s planning to cook things up next.
Marie Flanigan: It has been such a joy getting to know you and your beautiful family! We loved reading that you’ve wanted to be a chef since the age of 10. Was there a particular person or experience that inspired that passion?
Ludo Lefebvre: Actually, although I started cooking with my Grandmother around the age of 10, I never “wanted” to be a chef. I was a bad kid and, by the age of 14, my Dad had had enough. He gave me three choices: I could go to school to be a mechanic, a hair dresser, or a cook. Since I loved to eat and did enjoy cooking, I chose being a cook. And that’s how it all started.
MF: What did your journey from France to Los Angeles look like – was it a slow and steady move, or did it happen quickly? Did that transition present any challenges?
LL: I wanted to come to America for a number of years, but my first mentor, Marc Meneau, would continually tell me that I wasn’t ready. But one day, he looked at me and said it was time. I was finally ready. That was after 12+ years of hard work in France. Chef Meneau introduced me to a number of chefs/restaurateurs in America, and I had offers in NYC, Chicago and LA. I chose LA – who really knows why. But the California lifestyle is sort of the vision of the American dream. I did not speak any English when I came to Los Angeles. Fortunately, the restaurant was French, so I could communicate, but I had to get up to speed quickly. I still have never taken an English class..kind of wish I had.
MF: You trained in France for 12 years before coming to LA and working at L’Orangerie Restaurant and Bastide for a combined 9 years. What were those experiences like, and how did you know it was time to venture out on your own?
LL: Working at L’Orangerie and Bastide were VERY different experiences. At L’Orangerie I worked for an owner who counted every single penny every single day. It definitely taught me about food costs, restaurant business, expenses, etc… Bastide was every chef’s dream situation. I worked for such a generous owner who allowed me to explore techniques and cuisines – cost did not matter – he wanted the best. We traveled around the world to experience food. It was so amazing. To this day, he still inspires me, and I cherish the days we had together. But you just get that itch to finally work for yourself. It’s not that simple though. Krissy and I started with our pop-up concept LudoBites for a few years before finally taking the plunge.
MF: Opening a new restaurant seems like a massive feat! What are 3 elements that must be in place to ensure success?
- Sounds cliché but you can’t over plan. From construction, to kitchen design, to training. You can’t wing it. Margins are so thin, you need to be buttoned up from the beginning.
- Just like any business, funding is crucial. It is better to have a little extra in the bank than not enough. Restaurants can be impacted by the slightest things, weather, sports games, school break, etc… always start with and keep a cushion.
- OVER HIRE. Expect to lose 30%+ of your staff in the first few weeks. It is just the nature of the business.
MF: What aspect of the restaurant business is your favorite? Least favorite?
LL: I love to cook! The rest, well it is necessary, but my happy place is in the kitchen. Thank goodness I have partners who really handle most of the rest.
MF: What are the 3 traits that you believe a chef must possess in order to master his/her craft?
LL: Patience. Being detail-oriented. Generosity.
MF: Where do you find inspiration for your new dishes? Do you start with something familiar and add a signature twist, or do you prefer to create dishes that feel altogether new and original?
LL: Inspiration comes from EVERYWHERE. As you know, I have about 1,000 cookbooks. I LOVE reading cookbooks. I get so much inspiration from different chefs, different places around the world, and I wish I could travel so much more. Growing up and training in France, I really only learned about French cuisine. When I moved to America my eyes were really opened up to so many cuisines from around the globe. Los Angeles is home to so many different cultures, and I find inspiration around every street corner.
MF: How many cookbooks have you published? Is the development of a new cookbook a process you enjoy?
LL: I have 2 cookbooks: Crave, a Feast of the Five Senses and LudoBites, Recipes and Stories from the Pop-up Restaurants of Ludo Lefebvre. Additionally, we self-published a 10th Anniversary edition of Crave with new photography to demonstrate modernized plating. It was a fun process, and we ran a crowd-sourced campaign for the cover art with Talenthouse.
MF: Can you tell us more about LudoBites, your multi-city restaurant tour? What inspired that concept, and is it something you plan to do again in the future?
LL: LudoBites was never meant to be a thing. It happened by accident. We had been looking for a restaurant space back in 2007, and the economy was really bad. Landlords were still trying to charge super high rents, and when I don’t cook, I am not happy, so I needed an outlet. A friend of mine had a bakery that was closed at night, so I asked if I could do a dinner event there. And that became the birth of LudoBites. After the first one (3 months later), I took a job in Vegas because it paid really really well; but that is when I realized money definitely did not make me happy. I couldn’t cook in that kind of environment – it was not mentally healthy for me. So I came back to LA. Krissy and I decided to do another LudoBites to see how LA would react after I “left for Vegas money.” It was amazing how LA embraced me and what we were doing. Other locations started contacting us, and it just became a business. We never intended for it to be a business, but it was so successful, it was hard to say, “Let’s stop and start from scratch.” So we continued this for a couple of years, ultimately doing 10 LudoBites stops on our “tour”, including 3 weeks in Hawaii at the Four Seasons Hualalai. We wrote a book and developed a TV show out of the concept. But when the twins were on the way, we knew we couldn’t do it forever – we needed to settle down. I don’t know if we would do it again because we never planned to do it at all. At this point, it doesn’t really make sense as a business model, but I would love to host one or two day pop-up events at different places around the world. LudoBird in Paris for sure!
LL: Denver is definitely next on my list. We are actively looking there now and hope to find something soon. Krissy is actually from Denver, and it is just an amazing city. The kids love it, I love it, so why not? It makes so much sense. But a real dream would be to open LudoBird in Paris!
MF: Your wife and business partner, Krissy, does an incredible job managing your PR and marketing efforts. How did the two of you meet, and what is it like working so closely with your spouse?
LL: We met after she had come to L’Orangerie on a date! She was an attorney at the time. In 2009 she started working with me full time. There are positives and negatives of working together. I trust her more than anyone else in the world, and I know she will always do the best things for me. But sometimes it is hard to separate business and personal life. We work hard on finding a balance. We schedule date nights and make sure we have time with the kids and alone.
MF: You and Krissy share a strong media presence with appearances on shows like No Reservations, The Mind of A Chef, The Taste, Ludo Bites America, and The Apprentice. Are there any notable moments you would like to share from your experiences as TV personalities?
LL: TV is an entirely different world! It can be so fun, but you have to know that the moment the filming ends, you are no longer in control of the edit. In the beginning, I would tend to get edited to look like the crazy French chef. But over time, things have changed. I pretty much owe my entire TV career to Anthony Bourdain. He believed in me so much and wanted to make sure the world knew me and my cooking. Our trip to Burgundy for No Reservations was really such an amazing, magical time. I will always cherish the memories of him eating my grandmother’s cooking, sitting in the wine cellar learning French drinking songs with my childhood friends, and meeting the first chef who ever took me into his kitchen.
Krissy and I also had a really fun time exploring America on Ludo Bites America. It really opened my eyes to the different types of cuisines found throughout the country. I got to meet people from “real” America (as you know LA is not a true representation of America), and it was fun. I actually have a new project in the works now, but it is in the early stages. It would really be a dream of mine if it came to fruition!
MF: Your twins, Luca and Rêve, are precious! What are your top tips for juggling family life and a bustling restaurant career so successfully?
LL: You HAVE to make time for family. I used to let work control everything, but then you realize your kids are losing teeth, growing out of shoes faster than you drive to work, and the world just spins faster and faster. There are no tips, no secrets – just prioritizing life so that you and your family have the time they need. I created the kids menu at Petit Trois Le Valley just for them.
MF: Is there one piece of advice you would offer an emerging new chef or entrepreneur?
LL: PATIENCE!!! Young chefs these days come out of culinary school and expect to be placed in positions well beyond their experience. Being a chef takes lots of practice. You will go through stages learning who you are as a chef, and you need to experience these. Being able to create and execute a dish time and time again takes work, but that is just the beginning of being a chef. You have to learn to be a business person as well. You might be the most creative, talented person to ever be in a kitchen, but if you can’t manage people, food costs, labor, etc… you will never be a true “chef” – you will always be a cook. This takes time. You WILL make mistakes. I have made plenty. Be patient.
Hungry for more of Chef Ludo’s LA abode? Savor the spaces we designed below!