Far beyond mashing and frying, the manifold virtues of the potato are explored by the French chef Ludo Lefebvre in this short from filmmaker David Gelb. Often thought of as the godfather of pop-up dining thanks to the success of Ludobites, the LA-based gastronome’s dining experiment that was the hottest meal ticket in town during its various iterations between 2007-2011, Lefebvre initially made a name for himself on the California culinary circuit as the executive chef at two of Los Angeles’ best-regarded establishments, L’Orangerie and Bastide. The French transplant, a recent participant of the Le Grand Fooding Crush festival, has since gained recognition as a competitor on cult cooking shows, Top Chef Masters and Iron Chef America, and his latest venture, Trois Mec, is a collaboration with fellow chefs Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook, the duo spearheading the meat-heavy joint, Animal. The boys’ new hotspot has been receiving rave reviews for its “casual fine dining” hits like fried salt-and-vinegar buckwheat amuse-bouches to mustard seed-crusted chicken wings, and the restaurant’s kitchen provided the setting for Lefebvre’s potato tasting as captured here by Gelb, the man behind 2011’s unexpected documentary hit, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. The food-happy director spoke to us about hunger, Instagram, and of course, potatoes.
How do you translate the experience of preparing and consuming food into film?
David Gelb: I tend to work with chefs who make amazing-looking food, so that is the bulk of the work. Beyond that, I think the best way is to use the camera to try to mimic the perspective of a hungry person, and then let the audience’s imagination do the rest. We generally keep the camera just above table level, which is what it might look like if you were leaning in and examining your food as it is placed in front of you. Shallow, selective focus helps guide the eye to the most delicious looking parts, which should glow or glisten indicating fatty acids and moisture. In the end, however, it’s really a matter of intuition.
Documenting gastronomic moments has become a global social phenomenon, with images of food proliferating on the likes of Instagram and Facebook. Where do you think this need for us to memorialize and showcase our meal choices comes from?
DG: I think it’s a similar impulse that makes people want to shoot and post pictures and video of concerts and sporting events. There is a certain satisfaction in taking a picture of a perfect morsel and kind of bragging to the world, “I ate that.”
You must have learned a lot about potatoes during filming. Have you tried any new tricks in your own kitchen?
DG: I want to try to make the potato pulp like Ludo does at home. However, I’m a lot better at eating food than making it.