Cody Pickens (photographer),
Erin Phraner (writer)
You wouldn’t expect the occasional burn to faze a chef as seasoned as Ludo Lefebvre. He’s the Frenchman behind Los Angeles pop-up restaurant LudoBites whom reality television fans grew to love (or loved to hate) on Bravo’s Top Chef: Masters. But Lefebvre, like many other tattooed chefs, gets extra-pissed when he’s scorched in the kitchen. “It drives me nuts when I burn my tattoos,” he says. “They lose color instantly.”
In fact, he says, just a few days ago, his kitchen assistant accidentally seared the back of his arm while television cameras were rolling for his new Sundance channel TV show, Ludo Bites America. But that didn’t stop him from freaking out. “I imagine there are some people who would say I am an asshole,” he admits. “But they keep coming back, so I guess that speaks for itself.”
There’s a lot to learn from Lefebvre, after all. He trained in France under the instruction of culinary patriarchs such as Pierre Gagnaire and Alain Passard before moving to L.A., where he scored the title of head chef at the tender age of 25 and won two Mobil Five-Star awards. Since then he has branded himself as a pop-up virtuoso, putting Los Angeles restaurant enthusiasts into a frenzy each time his fly-by-night dining rooms turn up somewhere around town. So, yeah, he’s got a thing or two to pass on.
It’s surprising, then, that one thing you won’t find tattooed on Lefebvre is food. “I guess I would rather have something else to talk about when I leave the kitchen,” he says. What he can discuss, however, is a collection of more than 25 tattoos that he has curated for the past 15 years. Lefebvre’s torso and limbs have become a junk drawer of permanent mementos. Some things are meaningful, like a tattoo of his sister’s name, a Buddhist prayer, and his LudoBites logo—and some things he can’t remember his reason for adding, like the four dragon tattoos strewn around his frame. But Lefebvre’s most treasured design is a heart around his wife’s name with a crucifix that is stamped on his chest. Lefebvre’s chum Vince Neil (of Mötley Crüe) has a similar tattoo, making them sort of fraternal tattoo twins.
Although the chef doesn’t know where his next restaurant may pop up, he does have his next two tattoos planned out. The first will be a landscape of Los Angeles across his back—including the Hollywood sign, of course—with the addition of the Virgin Mary somewhere in its midst. The next: a tattoo of his newborn twins’ names, Luca and Rêve, which is French for dream. Here’s to hoping he’ll put them somewhere his next assistant can’t singe.