As a young chef Ludo Lefebvre left his native country of France and set out to manage the kitchen at the L'Orangerie restaurant in Los Angeles. “Everything was bigger here - even the roads”, he says while recalling his first impression of Hollywood. “I’d seen all these people on TV in France and then I was here and talking to them…it was strange to go on any corner and see movie stars and celebrities everywhere.”
Lefebvre, nicknamed 'The Garbage Disposal' by his mum because of his healthy appetite, made his name working at some of the best restaurants in France and as much as he loved the relaxed atmosphere of LA, “the lifestyle here was less stressful to Paris”, he missed the conviviality of home, especially his parent's parties. “My love of food comes from where I’m from in Burgundy, France. My family, grandma, mum, dad, grandpa loved food and wine and almost every weekend they would host a dinner in the house. All the time in our house there was life happening - every weekend was a celebration. This lifestyle I really love it and I think this is what really made me want to cook.”
LA in 1996, when Lefebvre arrived, was a very different place to what it is now. High-end fine dining was reserved to just a few locations and the culture of food appreciation in America was somewhat lacking. “The Americans at that time didn’t really celebrate life around food - I was shocked to be invited for dinner at 5-o-clock in the afternoon and by 8-o-clock it would be finished. I missed the lifestyle from back home the most.”
Lefebvre eventually settled in LA and began slowly embracing the new flavours surrounding him. “I remember eating Mexican, Sushi and Latin American foods with lots of spice, this was me tasting flavours from all over the world that I had never tasted before.” Eventually these mouthfuls of ceviche, sprinklings of seaweed used in Asian restaurants and the tacos from trucks across LA influenced his cuisine.
“Eventually I started to take classic French dishes and mix in some of this Asian or Mexican influence - for me it was an explosion of flavour… In 1996 when I was in Paris the chef was not traveling like he is now, France at that time was very French, 10 years ago I was all the time in my kitchen everyday… The life of the chef has changed a lot now.”
Lefebvre has been forced to look back his time in LA as he works to republish the first ever cookbook he created, Crave: The Feast of the Five Senses. The book is a collection of classic French recipes from the chef presented across the five senses: sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste. It includes dishes such as Hot Chocolate Galettes and Escargots with Shallot Mouse and Parsley Coulisand acts as a reminder of just how timeless French cuisine is. It also seems that working on the 10th anniversary edition has helped Lefebvre consider his journey in America and just how much things have changed since he first published the book back in 2005.
“People are now really into food, they want to try the chef, have an experience and know more about wine. The food culture really evolved here in Los Angeles…Finally people don’t just cook for Thanksgiving - people are starting to host more dinners, really caring about what they cook and finally American people are realising that cooking is all about great, fresh ingredients.”
Lefebvre says he has witnessed big changes across the industry on a whole with chefs now travelling, leaving the kitchen and having more time to discover ingredients, but his strongest words come in the form of adviceas he warns young students to be careful to avoid the celebrity idea of the chef. “The new generation is very dangerous, being a chef is long hours and it’s not a fun activity, all the young kids want to be a chef, watch TV, go to school for just one year and they think they can open their restaurant.”
“The young chef now needs to be patient, spend time in the kitchen and spend time with different chefs. We have all these young kids now who have picked up these techniques of elBulli but they just know how to do that. When I hire some young chef, 22 or 24-years-old, they’re very good with this technique of powder or nitrogen, they know how to cook sous vide but they don’t know how to cook a perfect omelette, they don’t know how to do a stock, they don’t know how to butcher a fish... you ask them to do a bearnaise and nobody knows how to do a bearnaise".
He adds, “You don’t know how many times I have some young kid, you know I cooked for 20 years, but after a few years they think they know more than me. Be patient, travel, learn your job, take your time and find your style of cooking.”
Crave is packed with the type of knowledge Lefebvre says is lacking in many young chefs, with a whole list of classic recipes and many anecdotes from the chef's own career, many that act as lessons into the true work of the kitchen and just how hard it can be. “I think the book is still very useful… full of the classics and foundations of French cooking. The recipes are still great and they can still be used now. Foundations about stock, roasting, searing, poaching - lots of different styles of techniques."