Every eight weeks or so, the tiny dining room at Trois Mec, L.A. Weekly's Best Restaurant of 2014, throws off its fancy restaurant guise and becomes a playground of sorts. The restaurant is usually only open during the week. But on these Saturdays at 11 a.m., tables normally reserved for dining on chef Ludo Lefebvre's meticulous creations get pushed into the center of the room, where children ranging from age 7 to 13 gather around and stand to attention. Aprons are donned. Excitement fills the air.
Much of that excitement comes from the parents who watch rapturously from the sidelines as their progeny wait for Lefebvre to enter. Some of these kids are hard-core food lovers raised on cooking TV. Some are obviously here because they have the type of parents who want to expose them to everything, interest-be-damned. At a class in September, one child retreated to the side of the room repeatedly, fishing a Nintendo DS from his mother's bag before she shooed him back toward the cooking action. When the mom asked me to take a photo of her and her son, the boy refused to stand still long enough.
But most of the children here are thrilled with the prospect of making a lunch dish, and with Ludo Lefebvre himself. "Can you tell your moms to be quiet?" he snaps from the head of a long table, a cheeky glint in his eye. His French accent is so thick that one tween turns to her dad and asks "What's he saying?"
The combination of Lefebvre's gruff kitchen demeanor, tattooed arms and French charm at once frightens and delights the kids. But any adult with half a heart can see that the dude is a giant softie.
In groups of threes, the kids traipse behind the counter into the kitchen to mix ingredients in giant mixers. As they do so, a trail of parent paparazzi follows, cell phones aloft, snapping pictures wildly. In September, the recipe, neatly printed out for each child, was for a cheese, onion and potato pie from one of Nigella Lawson's cookbooks.
Lawson co-stars with Lefebvre on the ABC show The Taste (which returns to air December 4), and the camaraderie between the two cooks was evident in Ludo's declaration that "If it doesn't turn out, it's not my fault. Blame Nigella."
Once the pie crust was mixed and pressed into pans, the children grabbed from bowls of ingredients and filled their pies. Lefebvre circled them, cajoling: "Not enough cheese in this! That is too much paprika," as he grabbed ingredients and added to pies.
At the end of the class, the kids line up and don goofy chefs' hats, and Lefebvre joins them for a group picture. They each get a Ludobites cookbook and a quick book-signing session takes place. These are burgeoning chefs, perhaps, but they are definitely burgeoning consumers of celebrity food culture.
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Kid's cooking classes at Trois Mec are available through the Mastercard Priceless program. See details and sign up here.