"Bring it!" is Lisa Pulido's motto. The manager of , a local Mexican restaurant that's been a favorite of the community for 40-plus years, fears no challenge. Since her parents opened the eatery in 1969, they've persevered through national economic crises, changing tastes and more, but their flair for down-home comfort food has remained consistent.
Then came "the French invasion," according to Lisa Pulido.
Celebrity Chef Ludovic "Ludo" Lefebvre; his wife, Krissy; and their camera crew shared a kitchen with Casa Pulido recently to tape an episode of , a Sundance Channel reality show in which the peppery foodie combines forces with mom-and-pop establishments for a gastronomic experiment. In this particular episode, airing Tuesday at 9 p.m., Francophile and SoCal flavors fuse together ... but the team doesn’t quite gel, as Pulido explained.
"The food was exceptionally fantastic," Pulido said. "It was a French style of Mexican cuisine. Do I think it mirrored a lot of things we have on our menu? Not really. And I knew it wouldn't be verbatim. Of course not. But [Lefebvre] was definitely influenced by all kinds of Mexican cuisine, which was fantastic."
Casa Pulido was approached by a Ludo Bites production assistant earlier this year to see about filming at their location. After some consideration, the restaurant manager decided the partnership would be mutually beneficial for them and the TV show.
"It was a big deal—a huge 'Top Chef' cooking in our small, dinky, little kitchen," Pulido said.
Though, she added, that "dinky, little kitchen" regularly serves a packed house, especially on the weekends, when hundreds flock to her business for classic dishes such as enchiladas and chile rellenos, all made from scratch.
Lefebvre and crew took over the establishment on June 1 and scrapped the restaurant's daily menu in favor of his French-Mexican fusion. One of Pulido's favorite concoctions the chef prepared was the "Salsa-Rita," a tangy alcoholic beverage based on their most-requested item.
"Our salsa is, by far, our No. 1 seller," the manager said. "Our guests come in here, and they literally want to drink it."
But not everything about that night went down as smoothly as the Salsa-Rita. Pulido said that as temperatures rose in the kitchen, so did the emotions. She rarely worked directly with the colorful chef, as she had front-of-house duties to attend to with Krissy Lefebvre; when she did interact with Ludo Lefebvre, they butted heads, she said.
She mentioned his intensity but was quick to say that she understood his desire for high-quality presentation. Nevertheless, Pulido added that she felt her dedicated customers got left out in the cold during this special event.
"What bothered me is that they didn't want to do any walk-in business," she said. "I get it. I get how complicated his menu is. But I wanted to, and I think that there is some of that tug-of-war on camera."
Another war brewing in front of the cameras was that among Pulido's father and head cook, Ruben; the TV crew; and a . Lefebvre had introduced a foie gras quesadilla to the menu that night. To some, the . (Wrote blogger kevinEats: "The bane of our aforementioned protesters was easily the best quesadilla that I'd ever eaten.") To the protesters, it was cruelty in a tortilla.
To the Pulidos, it seemed a possible publicity stunt. Lisa Pulido said she appreciated the outpouring of support her regulars offered, as they personally confronted the protesters.
Still, Pulido said, the excellence of the meal and the synergy of her staff shined through the cacophony of the taping. She said she would like to work with Lefebvre again, but in a more apparent partnership, not a "pop-up" scenario, as Ludo Bites America presented.
The chef told the Daily Breeze via email of his own concerns: "Casa Pulido has been doing its thing for 40-plus years, so it was difficult for them to embrace a new system. Most other (LudoBites) restaurants were a bit more open-minded. ... But I can't criticize their system. They have been around for a long time, and that in and of itself is an accomplishment."
And that fortitude is what made the evening an overall success, Pulido said.
“I think what it left me walking away from it was true appreciation of my staff—who are awesome—appreciation for my parents, how hard they work and how hard it is!" she said. "The event that we had was over the top. It was the busiest Wednesday by far.”
Sundance Channel will air "Ludo Bites America: Redondo Beach" Tuesday at 9 p.m.