Chef Ludo Lefebrve talks about the future of pop-ups

AP News
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Posted: Feb 19, 2015 7:35 PM

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Big impact in a little package — it's Ludo Lefebvre's recipe for success.

From a string of too-hot pop-up restaurants to hosting ABC's one-bite food competition show "The Taste," Lefebvre understands the power of fleeting flavors that leave big impressions. He got his start as the impresario of the pop-up, those one night stand-style restaurants in temporary spaces that are up and gone before the buzz has a chance to die down.

But he says technology is changing the medium that helped make him. Lefebvre — who has cooked elaborate meals everywhere from humble bakeries to dazzling museums — says social media is revolutionizing the pop-up restaurant world. When he first started hosting pop-ups in 2007, "it was very difficult to get the message out there," he said Thursday during an interview at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival.

It could take weeks for a magazine article to come out. Twitter, after all, was still an infant. But today? He says he can promote an event in an instant. There are apps dedicated solely to pop-ups. One matches hosts with chefs, another targets more adventurous diners who are only told the location after they purchase a ticket. Yet another allows chefs — or would-be chefs — to create pop-up restaurants in their homes.

"All the technology can really help to create pop-ups and to be creative," said Lefebvre, who since his early pop-up days has put down roots with two Los Angeles restaurants, Petit Trois and Trois Mec. "I can tweet and say, 'I'm going to be here tomorrow night.' It's amazing."

Still, Lefebvre cautions inspiring pop-up chefs and hosts that even with technological advances, it's a lot harder than it looks, especially when you are cooking in someone else's kitchen. At one venue, he had only a single oven and four burners to work with. At another, he had an oven that only worked occasionally.

His advice to novices? Patience is key. So is quality. Secret locations and other pop-up gimmicks might create a buzz, but if the food doesn't deliver, he says don't bother.

For example, since pop-ups typically are done in constrained kitchens, Lefebvre says he usually prepares just a protein, a vegetable and a sauce, focusing more on quality ingredients and technique instead of elaborate creations. "I'm not going to put eight things on the plate where it's going to be difficult for me to execute," he said. "It needs to be simple."

As for his next pop-up venture? "Maybe next year it's going to be in an airplane or a boat, who knows?" Or maybe he'll go decidedly low-tech. "Maybe a picnic pop-up."