Tempers Get "Haute"
Big Mama's Kitchen and Catering Featured on "Ludo Bites America"
Don’t look for Gladys Harrison to adopt a new pronunciation of her name anytime soon.
“The first 50 times I heard him say it in that French accent - the way he said ‘Glah-deece’ - I thought it was so sexy,” Barron said with a hearty chuckle. “The next 500 times? That was a different story. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and I wanted to choke him.”
The French accent belongs to Chef Ludovic Lefebvre, better known as Ludo, the renegade chef who is the creator of L.A.’s legendary pop-up restaurant LudoBites. Now Ludo is taking his independent food on the road in the new television series, “Ludo Bites America,” and Omaha’s Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering is showcased in tonight’s episode.
The program, the second in the series that debuted July 19, airs at 8 p.m. on the Sundance Channel.
“Ludo Bites America” features the classically trained five-star French chef and his business partner and wife Krissy, as they rewrite the recipe for local American cuisine. Ludo has created a new business model that allows him to escape the frustrating confinements of a brick and mortar restaurant and gives him the freedom to answer only to his own passion, a press release stated. He opens a pop-up restaurant in a new town with a new menu every week.
How will things go when the fiery French chef goes toe to toe with Omaha’s larger-than-life queen of soul food?
Reality television’s bread and butter is the clash of powerful personalities, and the Big Mama’s “Ludo Bites America” episode doesn’t stray far from the formula.
A visit to the restaurant two days before their newest television premiere (Big Mama’s has also been featured on the Food Channel’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and the Travel Channel’s “101 Tastiest Places to Chow Down”), found the team of Patricia “Big Mama” Barron and daughter Gladys “Glah-deece” Harrison wondering how they will be perceived in the show. After all, they had no idea what may have been left on the cutting room floor. What would be taken as “reality” in small screen world where the very notion of “context” is sometimes at best vague and at worst contrived?
Big Mama explained that she has but one aim as she settles in tonight to watch the episode.
“As long as people can say ‘Wow, there is a group of black folks doing what they do, doing it well, and being an asset to the community in the process,’ that’s the most important thing,” said the woman famous for her Big Mama’s Sweet Potato Pie Ice Cream, oven-fried chicken and Afro-Burgers.
“Big Mama is an amazing woman,” Ludo said in an email to metroMAGAZINE. “It is amazing what she has done in her life to start a restaurant at 65 years old. It is an inspiration and definitely has taught me to never give up on a dream. I hope when I am her age I can have her energy and open heart.”
The episode culminates with a pack-em-in evening where "haute" meets "soul."
“I knew the Internet and social media was powerful,” Gladys said, “but we sold out 120 seats in less than an hour. No $10,000 ad campaign. No commercials. We have a website and use Twitter, Facebook, email blasts and other tools, but this really taught us something. We’ll be looking at doing more and thinking more about how to use social media as a result of this experience.”
Big Mama is steering proceeds from the event to the Great Plains Black History Museum and the Omaha Street School.
“History is very important for me,” Big Mama said. “People need to know where we’ve been to be able to understand where we’re going, so I’m a big supporter of the museum.”
The Omaha Street School (located on the same Turning Point campus that is home to Big Mama’s) represents what is often a make-or-break opportunity for kids who have been expelled from both a high school and an alternative school.
“For so many of them this is like their last chance before it’s strike three and you’re out,” Big Mama said, “so it makes us proud to see the work at the Street School and prouder still when we see those who go on to college.”
The first Ludo-inspired change at Big Mama’s?
The restaurant will be putting it’s own spin on the pop-up theme beginning in September when they will stay open late one night a week in offering a reservations-only, five-course dining experience. The first event will be a benefit for the Omaha Street School.
“We’re certainly not a pop-up,” Gladys said, “but we can still create that one-night-only buzz we had with Ludo, and it’s a great way to use a restaurant that otherwise just sits there at night.”
Not surprisingly, the program amps up the sort of love-hate relationship engendered whenever excitably acerbic hosts break “the fourth wall” of the television screen and show up at your doorstep, but Big Mama will remember the “Ludo Bites America” experience as one of discovery.
“Ludo kind of became my spiritual scrub brush,” Big Mama said. “I have a feeling for food that I see not everyone has. And that’s a gift. Then Ludo comes here and I see that he has that same feeling, that same gift, that same feeling for food. We express those gifts in very different ways and we’re very different people, but it’s always about the food.”
Like the act of scouring away layers of baked-on goop – even though it’s a good bet that even pot scrapings are culinary delights at this North Omaha landmark - Big Mama found the shiny surface underneath, new layers of understanding and appreciation for new ideas.
“He made me realize that there are other ways I can fix my food, maybe even with a bit of flair. Maybe even with a bit of French flair,” Big Mama said. “It’s not like I need to always make everything the same way I always have. It’s very refreshing to scrub away old ideas every once in a while.”
Ludo has moved on to his next pop-up, but the flavors and people of North Omaha will linger in his memory.
“Big Mama’s team really came through for us,” the chef said. “We put them in a completely new situation, cooking new food, serving in a new style and we did not have one mistake. Pretty amazing.”