LudoBites 9.0: Q&A with Ludo Lefebvre

Courtesy of LudoBites

I guess we all grow up sometime. Ludo Lefebvre says LudoBites Nine-0, the ninth iteration of his pop-up restaurant starting today at the Four Seasons Resort in Hualalai, could be his last. Lefebvre is a Los Angeles celebrity chef, with a turn on Top Chef Masters and his own show, Ludo Bites America. He's been hyped as much for his inventive food and execution (think foie gras pina colada), as his roving restaurant concept, a restaurant without a home. Time Magazine named Lefebvre a Chef of the Future, a chef who forgoes a stationary kitchen, dining room and all the overhead costs that come with it, for his touring restaurant, calling to mind a rock band, tattooed, charismatic leader included. Pulitzer Prize-winning restaurant critic Jonathan Gold said in the Time piece, "Ludo has taken a heroic first step for the creative chef who takes food more seriously than the restaurant power structure." Could that all be at an end? We talked with Lefebvre, now 40 with 10-month-old twins, before opening night today on the future of LudoBites and his time here in Hawaii. Here's an excerpt:

Now that you've been doing LudoBites for five years, are you tired of it?
Yes. I am. Maybe the last one, this one. Maybe.

You say that every time to get people to come?
Yes, but I think it's really real, ok? Or maybe I'm going to stay here if I like it. Maybe. Maybe I'll go to the Four Seasons and say, can I keep the restaurant, guys?

It was a great concept, it was a great time for me, but the thing is, it's time for me to create something else. To reinvent myself a little … I still love the concept. But I want to have my own kitchen too. It's like when you travel, you go to a different hotel, different country, but it's always good to come back home. I can still keep the concept but I still want to open a restaurant. So I'm working on that now.

In LA?
In LA, yes. You know LudoBites is fun, but trust me, the first week is brutal. People don't realize. To open a restaurant like this, it's not that easy. [At Four Seasons], we're lucky, we don't share a kitchen, the restaurant is closed just for us. But most of the time, when I do LudoBites on the Mainland, I'm sharing the kitchen, a restaurant with some people. It's not that easy to have two restaurants in one. Can you imagine? Trust me. My cookbook is coming up in October, LudoBites. You can see all the different LudoBites I did with menus, staff, all the nightmare and all the joy.

Here in Hawaii, anything you're particularly excited to work with?
Definitely the kampachi, I love the kampachi, and hirame. Very excited about the fish, fish I've never cooked with. Some chocolate from Hawaii, too. Working on a dish with coffee, coffee from Kona.

I noticed there's no Spam on your menu.
Spam, it's interesting. I ate Spam for the first time last weekend, so I tried to work on a Spam dish. I mean, I like Spam, you know. Spam is Spam. Do you like Spam?

Yes, I do.

I think for the opening, the first few days, I'm not going to do Spam now, but I'm sure during this week, I'm going to do a dish with Spam. I was working on a croque madame, like a croque monsieur, with egg and Spam, bread, cheese. I mean, why not. I think you will see Spam on the menu next week.

So the menu will actually be different next week?

Depends on my mood. We'll see. I'm sure we're going to change and add a few dishes, definitely. After the two, three days we're open, after I feel more comfortable with the stuff, I'm going to definitely change a few dishes. There's a lot of things I want to use here.

I saw foie gras on the menu. It's banned in California, right?

Foie gras ban is in all of California starting July 1. No more foie gras.

So you're going to come back to Hawaii to cook foie?

You know what, that's a great idea actually. You're right, I'm going to come back to Hawaii to cook foie gras. On the menu I put a foie gras pina colada, very excited about that. I know people from Hawaii eat foie gras. They eat Spam, so they gotta eat foie gras, too.

What have you been doing in Hawaii since you got here?

Fishing, surfing…Looks like the surf is picking up today, too, I would like to go surfing, but I need to go work. It's amazing to do LudoBites in Hawaii, but sometimes I wish I could be in the sea. In Hawaii, it's so difficult to go into the kitchen. I don't want to go cook! I mean, I love to cook, but I want to go to the beach!

Now you know why we don't have as many restaurant cooks as other cities.

Oh, I'm sure. I understand.

LudoBites is popping up in the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai from March 6-18. Fox News named LudoBites as one of the toughest restaurants to get a reservation, but there are still seats available for LudoBites 9.0. Lefebvre says they're also holding some tables for walk-ins. The opening night menu includes ahi, vanilla and sushi rice ice cream ($26), shrimp with Hawaiian cinnamon butter, fideo, clams ($26), crispy chicken, chorizo, eggs and Hamakua mushrooms ($34). For reservations, call the Four Seasons concierge at (808) 325-8450.