When the LudoBites cookbook landed with a thud on our desk, our reaction was the same as when the Ludo Truck is parked less than a block away. Other Cookbooks of the Week can wait -- there is duck fat-fried chicken to eat.
Ludo Lefebvre's wife and business partner extraordinaire, Krissy, and food writer JJ Goode are the co-authors of Ludo Lefebvre's wife and business partner extraordinaire, Krissy, and food writer JJ Goode are the co-authors of LudoBites: Stories and Recipes From the Pop-Up Restaurants of Ludo Lefebvre. If you're here to cook high-end restaurant dishes, recipes like scallops with almond puree, pickled grapes, capers, curry oil and cauliflower ice cream (a mouthful!) abound. But what really jumps off the pages of the book, due in stores on Tuesday, are the pop-up stories the book brings to life. To use Anthony Bourdain's words on the book's front cover, "Ludo is a very dangerous man."
And one whom L.A. food bloggers, as the book notes repeatedly, have idolized. You can almost sense the "backstage pass" excitement to the temporary restaurant, as the press release hints: "Like a rock band, LudoBites sets up shop in a borrowed space and appears for just two or three months at a time, always at night. LudoBites has twice crashed the online reservation site OpenTable, and recently booked six weeks of reservations in just 47 seconds." The cookbook -- more of an anthology with recipes, really -- is just as entertaining.
The book chronicles the staff, the scene and the food behind the seven different incarnations of LudoBites. Each chapter sets the scene with an essay, like the chapter on LudoBites 2.0 dubbed "The Cure for a Vegas Hangover: The accidental Twitter account, a fried-chicken breakthrough, a knish conundrum, and how I learned to stop worrying and love the pop-up." Hardly your everyday American success story.
From there, Lefebvre openly recalls his screaming matches with owners of the temporary spaces he leased: "That first day I was screaming, at no one in particular ... [later] I told [the restaurant owner] why I'd blown up, why I occasionally go into lunatic mode ..." Nor does he hold anything back in his assessment of past line cooks and staff: "And, Christ, there was this woman who'd wear blue eye shadow and fake eyelashes on the line. ... If I see any L'Oreal products on my plates, I'm going to souse her with kimchi consummé." Ha. (We hope she shot back with a quip about the chef's famous shirtless glam magazine shot from his first cookbook.)
The chef also dutifully recalls his highly entertaining run-ins with critics and bloggers. In that LudoBites 2.0 chapter, Lefebvre begins with a stressful visit from "Mr. Pulitzer" when Jonathan Gold was covering the pop-up for L.A. Weekly and the restaurant had sold out most of the menu items. Lefebvre moves on to those glorious memories of tracking down specific Twitter users via kitchen signs usually reserved for professional critics: "WANTED! If you see this girl, please let us know, quick." Blogger confrontations, for better and worse, abound in this pop-up storyline, including one in which Krissy responded to a blogger's online criticism of the beef tartar and "all hell broke loose. ... Much of the L.A. blogger community got involved in the drama, and accusations were flying."
There was a happy blogger ending to that story, and those that follow, as this is a pop-up restaurant that thrived in large part thanks to that "L.A. blogger community," as Lefebvre says. Local bloggers are credited throughout the book for keeping the buzz going about those rib-eyes with potato-pear gratin and blue cheese sabayon, and many of the book's photos were snapped by them (as well as by Shayla Deluy, Colin Young-Wolff and L.A. Weekly's own Anne Fishbein).
If you follow the local blog scene, you'll see many familiar faces and names throughout the book -- that also makes the cookbook at times read more like a magazine article than a cookbook. But actually, the LudoBites story does unfold somewhat like a fantasy Gourmet location shoot, with plenty of plot twists documenting the trials of setting up a pop-up restaurant.
In the book's storyline, dedicated online eaters like Caroline on Crack and Javier Cabral of the Glutster (both occasional contributors to this blog) are shown snapping pictures of their meals in the lightbox Krissy provided at LudoBites 3.0. Lefebvre talks of going to Cabral's family home to learn from the blogger's mother the secret to really great mole zacatecano (very cool). There's even a full-page sidebar on Kevin Eats praising the blogger (complete with an awfully cute photograph): "Because of the obsessiveness of people like him, we have an incredible permanent record of our temporary restaurant. ... In fact, a quarter of the photos in this book were taken by Kevin. Like I said, Kevin is a maniac. And we're so thankful for it." The love story between the pop-up restaurant and bloggers ends with a page dedicated to local blogger websites: "We adore you," reads the text. Awwww.
Looking for that recipe for scallops with almond puree, pickled grapes, capers, curry oil and cauliflower ice cream from LudoBites 4.0? Or the 2.0 version of chorizo soup with cantaloupe, honeydew and cornichon-onion sorbet? They're here, too. But you really came for the duck fat-fried chicken recipe. We'll save you the glossary time: It's on page 94.