The King of Pop-Ups

Burgundy-born chef Ludo Lefebvre dishes on the latest culinary trend.


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Pop-Up: n; an impromptu supper club, where a chef opens up a limited-run restaurant, often held in warehouses, storefronts and, in some cases, another restaurant.

 

Ludo Lefebvre, the Burgundy-born chef who helped transform America’s fledgling pop-up dining movement into a cutting-edge culinary phenomenon, is about to become a household name. The 41-year-old recently released his new book, LudoBites (Ecco, 2012), he’s poised to take his pop-up tour global, and he’s launching his second reality TV show starring alongside Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson in ABC’s The Taste. Amid his hectic schedule, Lefebvre dishes on what it takes to go rogue in the restaurant world, why fine dining needs to be more democratic and his obsession with North Carolina barbecue.


In 2007, I just wanted to cook. My hands needed to be busy and there were so many hurdles to opening a restaurant at the time. Traffic in Los Angeles is terrible, so I started to think: Why open my restaurant in one location? I can bring my restaurant to the people! That’s what I did. So I partnered with a friend who had a lunch restaurant that was closed at night.

Operating the pop-up has been amazing. It definitely has its advantages. There’s no permanent rent, no investors, the flexibility to do exactly what I want and the ability to travel and still make a living. But there are definitely challenges, like manning a transient staff, kitchens that are not always up to my dream standards, constantly moving equipment around and often sharing a kitchen with an existing staff. Still, I love it. And I think the trend of bringing good, affordable food to the masses in temporary settings will continue to grow. In part, the economy and social media’s immediacy have really helped create opportunities for new hospitality business models like the pop-up. Over the next 12 months, I expect to see even stronger alternative dining opportunities, be it pop-ups, trucks or some new trend. Either way, be prepared to keep chasing your food.

While I am working on a permanent space now, I am not leaving LudoBites. The pop-up trend seems to be moving full-steam ahead in Europe, and I’m considering a few pop-ups in Paris in the spring. I also plan to tour more around the United States.

America has so much culture—and great food. When I traveled for [Sundance Channel’s] Ludo Bites America, I was inspired everywhere. I had never experienced Carolina barbecue before, and to spend time with pit masters that employed the same slow-cooking techniques that I learned in France, I was so impressed. Keith Allen [owner of Allen & Son Bar-B-Que in Chapel Hill, North Carolina] would slow-cook his pork shoulders for eight hours or more until the meat just fell off the bone. It takes patience and a lot of love. The vinegar-based barbecue sauce was something completely new to me. And throughout America, there is so much more to explore! —LUDO LEFEBVRE


Fantasy Wine Pairing

Lefebvre offers his ideal wine picks to match his favorite LudoBites pop-up dishes.

THE PLATE: Green oatmeal, sautéed snails and green garlic bubbles
THE POUR: Didier et Pascal Picq‘s 2005 Vaucoupin Premier Cru from Chablis

THE PLATE: Pig’s head terrine, barbecue gelée and cheese
THE POUR: Kelly Fleming Wines’s 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley

THE PLATE: Rib-eye with potato-pear gratin and blue cheese sabayon
THE POUR: Maison Ilan’s Les Chaffots Premier Cru from Morey-Saint-Denis


Green Oatmeal, Sautéed Snails and Garlic Bubbles

Recipe adapted from LudoBites: Recipes and Stories from the Pop-Up Restaurants of Ludo Lefebvre (Ecco, 2012)

Chef Ludo Lefebvre grew up in Burgundy, France, a region known for its escargots. “When I was 10, I was famous (at least in my family) for my ability to gobble [escargots] the way most kids eat M&Ms,” says Lefebvre. “Who could blame me, when they were baked with garlic, parsley, lemon and a lot of butter—a magical assemblage of flavors?” This hearty wintertime dish recalls the flavors of the chef’s childhood, featuring oatmeal cooked risotto-style, bright parsley and a light garlic sauce.

3 cups whole milk, divided
3 green onions, very thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, chopped, divided
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Kosher salt, to taste
White pepper, freshly ground, to taste
2 large bunches fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves only (about 4 cups packed)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 3 tablespoons clarified butter, divided
1 shallot, finely chopped
½ cup steel-cut oats
¾ cup chicken stock
Grated zest of 1 small lemon
48 escargots
1 teaspoon soy lecithin
Pink and white garlic flowers for garnish (optional)

To prepare the green garlic sauce
Combine 1 cup of milk, green onions and 2 cloves of garlic in a heavy small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat and simmer gently until the green onions and garlic are very tender, about 15 minutes. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano to the garlic mixture, transfer to a blender, and purée until smooth. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a small saucepan and discard the solids. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To prepare the parsley purée
Blanch the parsley in a large pot of boiling salted water until the leaves are very soft but still green, about 3 minutes. Drain and transfer the parsley to a large bowl of ice water to cool, then drain again. Transfer the parsley into a food processor and purée with 3 ice cubes until smooth.

To prepare the oatmeal
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot and 1 clove of garlic and sauté until translucent, about 2 minutes. Stir in the oats, then add 2 cups of milk and the chicken stock, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer very gently, stirring often, until the mixture has thickened into a texture akin to creamy porridge, about 45 minutes. Stir in the parsley purée and lemon zest, and season with salt and white pepper to taste.

To prepare the escargots
Lightly season the escargots with salt and pepper. Heat a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add the clarified butter. Once the butter is sizzling hot, add the escargots and sauté until crisp to the touch, about 3 minutes. Transfer the escargots to a baking sheet lined with paper towels to absorb the excess butter.

To assemble the dish
Bring the garlic sauce to a simmer. Add the soy lecithin and mix with an immersion blender until bubbles form. Remove from the heat.

Spoon the oatmeal into 6 small soup bowls. Place 8 escargots on top of the oatmeal in each bowl. Spoon the bubbles from the garlic sauce over the escargots. Garnish with the garlic flowers, if desired, and serve immediately. Serves 6.

White Rice Velouté, Egg, Mushrooms and Christmas Tree Oil

Recipe adapted from LudoBites: Recipes and Stories from the Pop-Up Restaurants of Ludo Lefebvre (Ecco, 2012)

“For me, this is Christmas in a bowl, evoking many happy memories of the holiday,” says chef Ludo Lefebvre. “Not a sunny L.A. Christmas, but a snowy scene, a cabin in the woods.”   

To create a snowy expanse, the dish is comprised of rice velouté pureed with milk. To conjure the woods, the chef looked to button mushrooms and pine needles. “When I first made this dish, I plucked the needles straight from the ornament-laden tree in my living room,” says Lefebvre. He then infused them into the oil: “the lovely emerald green [is] a pop of color against the stark soup.”

½ cup grapeseed oil
¼ cup coarsely chopped pine needles
1 tablespoon duck fat
1 shallot, diced
½ cup Arborio rice
2 tablespoons dry white wine, preferably Chardonnay
2¼ cups whole milk, plus more to taste
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons mascarpone
Kosher salt, to taste
White pepper, freshly ground, to taste
3 tablespoons clarified butter
12 ounces white button mushrooms, cleaned and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 onions (about 1 pound total), sliced
1 cup heavy cream
10 large organic eggs

To prepare the Christmas tree oil
In a blender, blend together the oil and pine needles until the oil becomes green. Transfer to a container, cover, and let infuse overnight in the refrigerator.

Strain the oil through a fine-mesh sieve; discard the solids. Store the oil in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature before using.

To prepare the rice velouté
Melt the duck fat in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot, and sweat until tender but not browned, about 2 minutes. Add the rice, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the wine, milk and chicken stock and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently, until the rice is very tender, about 25 minutes. (Don’t be afraid of overcooking the rice; it should be very soft.) If the mixture becomes too thick, add more milk to give it a creamy consistency.

Stir the mascarpone into the velouté, and season to taste with salt and white pepper. Transfer the mixture to a blender and purée until very smooth. The velouté should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon; if it is too thick, add more milk to adjust the consistency. Transfer to a saucepan and set aside.

To prepare the soubise
Heat the clarified butter in a large cast-iron skillet over a medium-high flame. Add the mushrooms and sauté until crisp and golden-brown, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Transfer the mushrooms to a cutting board and let cool slightly, then coarsely chop them.

Melt the unsalted butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until they are translucent but have not taken on any color, about 15 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low, add the cream, and cook until the onions are very tender and the mixture has thickened slightly, about 40 minutes. Transfer the onion mixture to a blender and purée until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Return the soubise to the saucepan, stir in the mushrooms and rewarm over medium heat. Check the seasoning, then cover and set aside.

To prepare the eggs
Bring a medium saucepan filled with water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, gently lower the eggs into the simmering water, and cook for 5 minutes.* Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggs to a bowl filled with ice water just until cool enough to peel—no longer than 2 minutes. Remove the eggs from the water and peel them carefully.

To assemble the dish
Reheat the rice velouté. In 8 small soup bowls, spoon ⅓ cup of the mushroom soubise, one egg, ¼ cup of the velouté and ¼ teaspoon of the Christmas tree oil. Serve immediately. Serves 8.

Tip from chef Lefebvre: “Don’t hesitate to cook an extra egg or two so you can crack one open to check that the yolk is cooked properly—that’s what I always do. The yolk should be creamy and warm.” 

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