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TV chef heats up kitchen in Redondo restaurant for a night on Astini News

Chef Ludo Lefebvre at Cafe Pulido in Redondo Beach. Photo courtesy of Sundance Channel (Photographer: Michael Farmer)

Ludo Bites America

What: Restaurant-based reality show starring chef Ludo Lefebvre; episode taped at Casa Pulido in Redondo Beach.

When: 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Where: Sundance Channel.

By Austin Siegemund-Broka, Staff Writer

Lisa Pulido calls it her restaurant's "little French invasion."

Casa Pulido, the Redondo Beach Mexican restaurant run by Pulido and her family, recently hosted an unusual guest: chef Ludo Lefebvre, shooting an episode of "Ludo Bites America" that will air Tuesday night on the Sundance Channel.

Lefebvre, a French classically trained chef who looks more like a rocker, has attained foodie fame for the restaurant LudoBites that he created with his

Ludo Lefebvre (Frazer Harrison)

wife, Krissy.

The "pop-up" restaurant has no location of its own; rather, Lefebvre's team occupies other restaurants' kitchens and dining areas, turning those restaurants into LudoBites for brief runs.

In "Ludo Bites America," which is in its first season on Sundance, the Lefebvres invade eateries around the nation and turn each into a LudoBites in one week.

It's not an easy week, Pulido says. She and her staff worked with the Lefebvres to open a Redondo Beach LudoBites at Casa Pulido for one hectic night.

"Was it the greatest experience of my life? No. Was it the worst experience of my life? Absolutely not," Pulido said. "It was fun. I tried to have as much fun with it by the night that it happened. It

was exhausting."

Chef Lefebvre designed the menu to combine local flavors with his French, haute cuisine style, as he does with every LudoBites. His 10 tapas-style dishes - among them crispy chipotle octopus, a foie gras quesadilla and guacamole sorbet - offered what Pulido called "a French spin on Mexican food."

Other combinations during the LudoBites transformation proved to be recipes for disaster.

Casa Pulido epitomizes the family-run restaurant - Lisa Pulido's

Lisa Pulido, left, and Krissy Lefebvre at Cafe Pulido. Photo courtesy of Sundance Channel (Photographer: Michael Farmer)

parents opened it in 1969, fulfilling a dream of her father, and work there still; Lisa has managed it for the past nine years.

The homespun individuality drew Lefebvre to Casa Pulido. And, Lisa Pulido says, she in turn took on the "Ludo Bites America" episode partly to draw attention to the restaurant's history.

"My parents are still working and have been running a restaurant for 42 years, and there isn't a lot of acknowledgment for that," she said. "That was a big reason why I said, `OK, lets do it."'

In those years, the staff has settled into a routine of running the restaurant: Each server monitors a few tables and brings orders directly to the cooks.

"We've been in business so long we're like a well-oiled machine," Pulido said. "I've always been a follower of the `If it ain't broke, don't fix it' kind of thing."

But for LudoBites, Lefebvre brought in his own system, from his classical training in larger kitchens.

Getting Casa Pulido to run differently was the chef's biggest challenge, he says.

In his kitchen, an "expediter" - Lisa, this time - would relay orders from waiters to chef, and would command servers to bring food to any table whose dishes were ready.

"Casa Pulido has been doing its thing for 40-plus years, so it was difficult for them to embrace a new system," Lefebvre said via email. "Most other (LudoBites) restaurants were a bit more open-minded.

"But I can't criticize their system," he added. "They have been around for a long time, and that in and of itself is an accomplishment."

Lisa Pulido clashed with Lefebvre on other occasions, she says.

Casa Pulido has never taken reservations, but early in the week she booked 180 of them within minutes - the largest LudoBites yet. Pulido says she worried about staffing and supplies, but when she tried to talk to Lefebvre, she found him uncommunicative.

"I'd ask him a question, and he'd say, `No, you're not going to tell me what to do!"' she said. "That was the only conflict I felt with both of them initially - that I wasn't being told everything."

When he worked with his staff - a skeleton crew he brought along - Pulido says, the temperamental chef commanded by barking orders and swearing.

But she's always refused to lead her staff that way, she says, and she made sure he didn't "belittle" her time-tested crew.

"I don't think he had a lot of faith in me because I'm not loud and a crazy screamer," Pulido said. "Maybe he doesn't think I have passion, but I do. It's just another way of communicating."

Everything came to a boil hours before LudoBites opened.

In a meeting, Lefebvre told Pulido that, as expediter, she needed to respect her chef and could not leave the kitchen. She says she snapped right back. It was her restaurant, she told him, and she deserved respect too.

With that, she says, Lefebvre fired her from the kitchen and the expediter post.

"They were like, `She has no idea what she's getting into.' But I was like, `You have no idea what I've accomplished. You don't care to know or find out,"' Pulido said.

"I was lighthearted about it," she said. "I never cried - he never got the best of me."

Pulido says LudoBites got about the same amount of business as Casa Pulido on a crowded Saturday night. But the expediter system sent the staff into chaos, with servers bringing dishes to the wrong tables. Pulido says she finally calmed the panicked staff by reminding them that they often handle the same amount of business with their usual system.

Everything ran more smoothly as the night went on, she says.

"That's the whole premise of the show - what made it real is that he had to work with us, and we had to learn his system. And that was the struggle," she said.

It didn't help that Lefebvre's use of foie gras (liver) drew protesters, who shouted and waved fliers in guests' faces.

They put many on edge, Pulido says. Her father eventually called the police, who made sure they maintained a moderate noise level and distance from customers.

When it was all over, Pulido got Lefebvre a beer, and the chef, his wife and the rest of the film crew left that night.

"It was insane. It was just a long day. It was just a very long day," Pulido said.

In the aftermath, Pulido says, nothing has changed at her restaurant. Though she and her staff experienced another way of running a kitchen, she says it all comes back to her mantra.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," she repeated. "It's been pretty much business as usual."

Austin Siegemund-Broka

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