“Bonsoir!” The cooks in the small kitchen exclaimed as my friend Meredith and I walked into an unassuming building. A bright yellow sign with glowing lights sits above this outdoor facade and reads Raffallo’s Pizza with the i missing. We’re in a modest mini-mall behind a gas station in Hollywood, California about to dine at one of the most highly-acclaimed restaurants in Los Angeles: Trois Mec.
Trois Mec—which is slang for “three guys” in French—is the brainchild of Ludo Lefebvre in collaboration with John Shook & Vinny Dotolo of the restaurant Animal. This unique concept of a restaurant requires guests to pre-purchase tickets online for specific dates, just like a sporting event or concert. The tiny space only accommodates 24 seats with a set menu and French hip-hop blaring through the speakers. The small, but open kitchen exposes the the brigade working in perfect formation and often like an assembly line.
The menu can be best described as an exploration of Chef Ludo’s creativity with Californian flavors delivered in an elegant and sophisticated manner. Among the dishes was a plate with avocado slices, crab ceviche, buckwheat popcorn and an unapologetic burst of citrus flavor. Or a leaf of grilled cabbage, smoked almond milk anglaise, and miso flan topped with fennel pollen. On the protein side: beef rib cab, charred broccoli, smoked peanut butter, and crispy shallot.
Before Trois Mec, Chef Ludo worked in a three Michelin star restaurant, trained under great chefs in Paris, started a highly successful food truck focused on fried chicken called LudoBird, and had pioneered the now-trending concept of pop-up restaurants with his previous endeavour: LudoBites. He is also currently a panel judge on the ABC show The Taste with Anthony Bourdain, Nigellla Lawson, and Marcus Samuelsson.
This is his story.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Burgundy, France: wine country, food, small city. It was in contact with nature and life such as hunting, gathering, eating, and drinking—it was my life. It’s not like you are in the big city. I started cooking around 14 years old. Then after, every day in the restaurant, six days a week.
In France, before they put you to work on the line to cook for a customer, it takes like five years. I did my apprenticeship like this for four years with Marc Meneau.
I did not know about the world of cooking but I spent a lot of time with my grandma in the kitchen, I always liked to eat. I just love it. I love the stress, the adrenaline—just love it.
What brought you out to the states?
I wanted to see something new. I was a little tired of being in France. At the time, there were like five big restaurants in the United States, so I decided to go. I came to L’Orangerie, a very, very famous French restaurant known all over the world. I was 25.
How did it feel to land in LA from France?
It was crazy. Everything is so big, there is no subway, you need a car, and everything is so far. The sun, the people, the movie stars, it’s a different world. Everyday, you see something and it’s wow and you learn something. I had different opportunities to work in New York, Washington, Chicago, and LA—and I picked here.
After 17 years, I never forget where I’m from and never forget my French base. But I’m not that French now. You have a lot of restaurants here in the US that are very French and for me, when I go to some of these restaurants, it’s boring. To eat for four hours or five hours—I don’t want that anymore. I want good food but casual. I’m successful here in America because I don’t think French. You need to think American. Now I eat at six o’clock at night and at 8:30, I’m in bed on a Sunday night—it’s amazing.
The first time I moved to this country, people were inviting me to dinner. They would invite me at five o’clock in afternoon and it was so strange. I had just come from France and we don’t start eating until 9pm.
How has working in kitchens in France and working in fine dining in LA defined you as a chef?
I was working at a high end restaurant in LA and it was like a vacation. The restaurant was closed for lunch. In France, restaurants are open for lunch and dinner. Here, you start at two o’clock in the afternoon—it’s crazy. Two o’clock in the afternoon til eleven at night—it’s so early. When I was in Paris, I would start at seven o’clock in the morning until 1 o’clock at night, nonstop. It was great here, it was easier—like vacation. Two days off… it’s great. In the morning, you have time to go to the beach.
My life in Paris was a little miserable; I was just working. You have one day off and you don’t have too much time for yourself. When I came here, I didn’t miss Paris that much. I didn’t miss the energy of the city, and now I miss that a little bit. But in the beginning, not at all. Sun everyday and no subway next to sticky people and the smell. It was so cool here, man.
I don’t see myself going back to France. If, I am going to do my life in LA—I don’t know yet—but I am for sure staying in America. I love this country.
I would love to live—I can’t now because of my job—but I would love to live in the southwest. I feel like it’s France over there. It’s all about food over there; it’s lifestyle. I love it.
After being classically mentored in France, how do you feel about the new generation of young cooks and chefs?
The time I worked in kitchens in France, it was a very difficult time. A lot of cooks wanted to work with bigger chefs, so it was very difficult to find a job with them. In my time, there was no internet, no cookbook, no TV. Now, you can learn a style of a chef by buying their cookbook or watching them on TV. Young cooks can learn so much on the internet about food. In my time, you had no choice to learn how to cook but to go work in a restaurant with a great chef.
Cooks in the new generation are a little lazy. They work eight hours and then complain. They are tired quickly and you cannot push them too much, but I feel like they don’t really care or they’re more arrogant and not respectful. They think they know everything because they read a cookbook from Daniel. So when they want to come work for me, some people want to be my sous chef and I ask if they know how to debone beef or make a classic stock and they don’t, but want to be a sous chef. They don’t realize that the job of a chef is to teach. It’s a big responsibility to be a chef.
I’m sad about that. This new generation of young chefs try to follow a new trend of cooking or try to be fancy and at the end of the day, the food doesn’t taste that good.
What is your perspective on LA dining after being one of the pioneers of experimental dining and popups?
My goal was to create not a beautiful restaurant but a unique restaurant. Trois Mec is very unique. When I opened this place, I wanted to make sure it was small and make sure people felt like they are in my house. But in LA, we don’t have a lot of fine dining rooms like New York. Why? Because of the people of LA. People in LA don’t dress. When I see people come in with flip flops and a t-shirt… I hate that shit! Put something on at least—it drives me nuts.
It was still very important to me to stay very affordable. I was not looking to have a set menu for $125 or $150. But still, I want nice service and a nice plate. Not frou-frou but still elegant. This concept here is not casual and it’s not fine dining, but I would call it more refined restaurant—it’s in between.
My main key here is hospitality. I feel like you have so many casual restaurants and I feel like people don’t care that much. You never see a manager on the floor or nobody says bye to you when you leave or opens the door for you. Hospitality. I want to take care of the customer. Before you ask me for bread or water, we’re going to see it and know what you’re going to ask me first.
A lot of young chefs and a lot of young people on the floor have never walked in France or walked in three Michelin star restaurants like myself, and they don’t understand about hospitality or how to take care of the customer. Here, we have a set menu, you eat what I want, but we have a lot of vegetarians. A lot of restaurants don’t want to do vegetarian. I decided to do a whole menu with just vegetables. So when people say they are vegetarian, bam! We have a beautiful five course menu. People love it; that is the restaurant business. You have to please the customer.
Hospitality is both sides, it’s not just the restaurant. If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. If you’re an asshole, I’ll be an asshole too. Trust me, I don’t have time for that anymore. I want to have fun in life and have fun when I cook.
Hospitality is both sides, it’s not just the restaurant. If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.
How has being on television changed your lifestyle?
I’m on TV now but I don’t think it has changed my life. I’m still cooking here every night and still have the same life. My priority is the restaurant. But don’t get me wrong, it has helped for business.
I love TV, but I won’t say it’s my goal to have my own show. So many people ask me to do my own show, but right now, it’s not my priority. What I like about The Taste is that you can still see that I am passionate about food and I love to teach. I love to teach… and to win.
What’s getting you excited lately?
It’s what a lot of chefs say: it’s the ingredients. Beautiful, fresh ingredients. 80% of my time is hunting for ingredients. That’s what gets me excited. Like right now, I’m working with avocado. My main focus is how to find a way to make an avocado better.
The thing about food in California, for me, is that it’s more healthy. People here, don’t want a lot of cream or butter. They want to eat a lot of vegetables and more latino flavors. To me, that’s what California is. Yeah, we have Asian flavors too, but it’s more healthy food with latino flavor.
Why is there no s on Mec?
If you pronounce it with an “s” as an American, you would say “mex”, like I’m a latino restaurant. Is it a Spanish restaurant or French? People would say “do you know you have a mistake on your logo?” You think I’m stupid like I forgot to put an s? C’mon!
To dine at Trois Mec in Los Angeles, visit their website to purchase a ticket.